A pastor in Cuba was sentenced to one year in prison while his wife was ordered to stay under house arrest for a year because they chose to homeschool their children.
The Cuban court handed down the sentence to pastor Ramon Rigal and his wife Adya in a trial late last month, during which authorities condemned "alternatives to state education," according to the Homeschool Legal Defense Association.
The prosecutor said the government does not allow homeschooling in Cuba "because it has a capitalist foundation."
According to Rigal, he was prepared to prove that his children were learning through homeschooling, but he was not allowed to defend himself during the trial.
"They would not let me speak in my defense," Rigal told HSLDA. "I brought evidence that my children were learning-notebooks and materials-[but] they didn't care."
He also wanted to defend his legal right to homeschool his children, but he was prohibited from doing so and was threatened he would be "removed from the courtroom" if he insisted.
Likewise, his witnesses were not allowed to speak and were told to "get out." The trial ended up becoming a platform for "scripted" presentations about why only qualified teachers are allowed to educate the children.
Rigal and his wife opted to pull their children out of the state school where they were being indoctrinated with socialist values. Aside from wanting to give their children the education they wanted, they also wished to avoid their children from being exposed to bullies at school.
Rigal was confident his decision was backed by the Constitution.
"As Article 26.3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, every parent has the right to give his children the education that he chooses," he told HSLDA earlier this year.
When the authorities noticed their children were not attending school, three police officers and two teachers went to their home and warned them they could face charges for homeschooling their children.
Rigal said he sought dialogue with the authorities to "find a peaceable solution" to the situation. He even suggested to homeschool his children under the state school's supervision. However, he was threatened with imprisonment and was told he and his wife could lose custody of the children.
"Homeschooling is not considered an educational institution, as this term is basically used in countries with capitalist foundations," the Municipal Office of Education in Guantanamo told Rigal in a letter, adding that those who cause a minor to skip school or "refuse educational work that is inherent to the national system of education" could be punished.
On the evening of Feb. 21, two police officers came to arrest Rigal and his wife at their home, but they asked them not to do it in front of their children, promising to turn themselves over at the station. When they arrived at the police station, they were arrested on charges of "acting contrary to the normal development of a minor." They were held for two days.
They were eventually released but were ordered to check in with the authorities every week until they were tried in April.
Cuba is a Marxist-Leninist socialist state. The government is known to commit human rights abuses against those who express dissent by subjecting them to prison sentences and arbitrary arrests, according to Human Rights Watch.
"The Cuban government continues to repress dissent and punish public criticism. It now relies less than in past years on long-term prison sentences to punish its critics, but short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders, independent journalists, and others have increased dramatically in recent years," HRW said in a report.
"Other repressive tactics employed by the government include beatings, public shaming, and termination of employment," HRW said.
Rigal decried the injustice the government is doing to his family.
"They are trying to force us to send our children only to state schools-not having the option for the children to be taught at home. They should respect the right that parents have based on the human right to teach their children and to respect their faith and the right to homeschool," he said.
In the midst of the legal battle, Adya said she was worried about the children. She also expressed concern for the church her husband pastors.
"I do not want to be separated from my husband. Our children need him. Our church needs our pastor," Adya told HSLDA. "My children are very sad and worried."
The HSLDA initiated a petition calling on the Cuban government to stop violating parents' rights to homeschool their children. You can let your voice be heard by signing the petition here.