A Cuban pastor has been told he is permitted to work again as a church leader, six months after he and his wife were arrested for home-schooling their children.
The Cuban government had cited Article 315.1 of the country’s Penal Code, which states: “Whoever induces a minor to leave his home, miss school, reject educational work inherent in the national education system or fail to fulfil his duties related to the respect and love for the country, is liable to a deprivation of liberty of three months to one year, or a fine … or both.”
Ramón Rigal, of Cuba’s Church of God, and his wife, Adya, want to educate their children themselves, arguing that the state system emphasises a Marxist-Leninist atheist ideology that goes against their beliefs. They also say their children were bullied at school.
The pair were arrested in February and, after a quick trial in April, Mr Rigal was sentenced to a year’s detention in a correctional facility and his wife to a year’s house arrest.
The pastor’s sentence was reduced to house arrest in July following a peaceful protest outside the Cuban Embassy in Washington DC and the collection of 30,000 signatures on a petition calling for the couple to be allowed to home-school their children.
However, at that time, Mr Rigal was also told he could no longer work as a church leader and was assigned a new job, checking the water supply of local houses for mosquitoes.
In arguing for the right to take their children out of school, he and his wife invoked UN articles, including part of the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which states: “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”
According to the religious rights charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the Rigals’ case is one of several in which family members of church leaders and activists are singled out for harassment by the authorities to increase the pressure on those church leaders and activists who are considered a “problem”.
As CSW reported in May, religious freedom activist Felix Yuniel Llerena Lopez was expelled from his university in Havana after returning from a trip to Washington DC, where he raised religious freedom concerns with Congressional and State Department officials. He has since been barred from leaving his village.
Arrests of the peaceful Ladies in White, founded by wives of jailed dissidents, have also continued.
“Despite promises of greater freedom for the Cuban people as the country develops its relationships with the US and EU … the repression of religious communities continues unabated,” CSW said in a communiqué.