07/13/2017 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that on July 7, Pastor Ramon Rigal, leader of Iglesia de Dios en Cristo, was sentenced to one year of heavy labor and house arrest for choosing to homeschool his children. Rigal has openly stated that his decision to homeschool was largely attributed to his Christian faith.
Diario de Cuba reported that, originally, Guantanamo courts had sentenced Rigal to one year of imprisonment. After appealing, this most recent adjudication led to a modified reduction of the punishment. Rigal confirmed that his legal counsel proved that he did not commit any serious criminal act. Rigal commented on the outcome, “I saw a bit more justice during the trial. We had good representation. Our lawyer demonstrated in every circumstance that we had not broken any criminal law.” Despite a strong legal showing, Rigal would still be penalized with the one-year sentence mentioned above.
Pastor Mario F. Barroso, a religious freedom activist from the Patmos Institute, as well as a close friend of Rigal, clarified to ICC, “Correctional labor is a form of forced physical punishment, where the state typically chooses the locations and the working conditions. People sentenced to this penalty are assigned to a ranch or a farm of some sort, and believe me it’s not light work.”
Rigal’s case has garnered some international attention in previous months. In February, Rigal was arrested because of his actions. This led to protests outside of the Cuban Embassy in Washington, DC in May. Protesters specifically picketed with signs that read, “Free the Rigals,” but organizers and participants were also focusing on the larger problem of Cuba’s repression and stronghold on education. Cuban law does not permit homeschooling, founded on the claim that it “promotes capitalist values” and thereby conflicts with the regime’s inculcation of socialism.
Rafael Cardona, ICC’s Latin America Correspondent, stated, “It is very concerning and disheartening when a Christian pastor faces harsh punishment simply for deciding to homeschool his children. It is even more egregious when a tough punishment is still issued despite having adequate legal defense and proving that no criminal laws were violated. In Pastor Rigal’s case, we have to be aware that he made multiple attempts to inform the state about the curricula and content of the education, including any religious elements. Nevertheless, the Cuban authorities still proceeded with a sentence that does not seem to fit the offense. Unfortunately, these kinds of repressive measures taken against people of Christian faith happen commonly in Cuba. We will continue to pray for Pastor Rigal and his family.”