A Cuban appeals court has surprised the homeschooling world by reversing a one-year prison sentence imposed on pastor Ramón Rigal for taking his children out of government schools and homeschooling them.
WND reported in May when Rigal and his wife, Adya, went to court in the communist nation on government charges they were homeschooling their children.
Both were convicted. He was ordered to a year in jail and she to a year of home detention. In the trial, the judge refused the couple permission to bring in witnesses.
The couple began homeschooling last winter because their children were bullied at Cuba’s public schools and were taught ideas that contradicted the family’s values.
WND reported this month the outcome of their appeal could depend on President Trump’s decision to condition U.S. relations with Cuba on the country’s respect for human rights.
Now, the Cuban appeals court has reversed the one-year jail sentence on Ramón Rigal without overturning his conviction, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association, which is supporting the pastor. His wife’s sentence of one-year of house arrest remains.
“This is a far better outcome than I had expected,” said Mike Donnelly, HSLDA’s director of global outreach. “Based on my understanding of how Cuba treats its dissidents, I was increasingly certain that Ramón was going to lose and go to jail. I was delighted to hear that the Cuban appeals court refused to impose this manifestly unjust punishment.”
In a statement to HSLDA, the pastor said he was “very grateful to everyone who has been praying and especially to HSLDA.”
“International opinion has been key in this victory,” he said.
“My wife is relieved that I will not be locked up, but September will soon be here and the local authorities will surely try to force me to put my children in school.”
Rigal said he will “continue to fight and not give in to their impositions and I will not take the children to school.”
“This fight must be continued until they let me educate my children quietly in my house or let me leave the country,” the pastor said. “They want to impose their injustice and how to make an example out of me so that others do not follow my example of homeschooling. If I am not allowed to homeschool here in Cuba, I wish the authorities would let me leave the country to go somewhere that I may.”
Donnelly said HSLDA will continue to call on the Cuban government to allow its citizens to homeschool in alignment with its obligations under international human rights statements it has signed.
The few places in the world that still crack down on homeschooling include Germany, which has never abandoned a law dating back to its Nazi era, and some Scandinavian countries, where authorities have taken children away from their parents over the issue, destroying the families.
HSLDA and CitizenGo have created an online petition to call on the Cuban government to correct the human-rights abuse.
At trial, the evidence that Cuba’s constitution and international agreements allow homeschooling was ignored by the judge, HSLDA said.
“When I tried to tell the judge about my evidence or to say that the government was acting unfairly, the judge told me that if I continued to speak she would have me removed from the courtroom,” Ramon told Donnelly.
He said that when he tried to call a witness to testify, the judge told the witness to “get out of here.”
Donnelly said the judge instead used “what appeared to be scripted presentations from state employees,” such as a school “psychologist” and a probation officer.
They testified that “only trained teachers are qualified to inculcate socialist values.”
Further, the prosecutor said homeschooling is not allowed in Cuba because the practice “has a capitalist foundation.”
The family has requested asylum in the United States.