The Cuban government has banned a pastor from working as a church leader after he was sentenced to house arrest earlier this year for homeschooling his children.
On July 31, officials in Guantanamo province informed Ramon Rigal, pastor of the Church of God in Cuba, that he is no longer permitted to work as a church leader. According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the pastor was told that his new job is to check for mosquitoes in the water supply of local houses.
Rigal was sentenced to a year in a correctional facility in April for his decision to educate his children at home instead of sending them to state schools. He said he and his wife decided to homeschool their children because they felt that the state school teaching emphasized a Marxist-Leninist atheist ideology, which conflicted with their Christian faith.
In July, his sentence was reduced to house arrest on the provision that his children return to a state school in September. Rigal was later told that he can no longer work as a pastor.
CSW asserted that Rigal's punishment is part of a wider crackdown on Christianity. "This is a longstanding tactic of the government to ratchet up the pressure on church leaders and activists who are considered a 'problem,'" the organization stated.
"The punishment meted out to Pastor Ramon Rigal and his wife is unwarranted and places the family in undue hardship. We call on the Cuban authorities to repeal the sentences against the pastor and his wife, and to allow him to continue his work as a church leader," said CSW's Senior Advocacy Officer for the Americas, Anna Lee Stangl.
Rigal's case has garnered international attention in recent months and has prompted protests outside of the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. in May.
Protesters reportedly carried signs that read, "Free the Rigals," but the organizers and participants also focused on the larger problem of Cuba's repression and stronghold on education.
Under Cuban law, homeschooling is not permitted, on the grounds that it "promotes capitalist values" and thereby conflicts with the regime's inculcation of socialism.
CSW noted that there have been no significant improvements when it comes to Freedom of Religion or Belief in Cuba since Fidel Castro died in November 2016. The organization has claimed that the arbitrary detention, harassment, restriction and surveillance of religious leaders and adherents, as well as the confiscation of church properties, has continued throughout the first half of 2017.
As many as 185 violations of Freedom of Religion or Belief has been recorded by CSW in 2017, with many of the cases involving large numbers of victims.