A Cuban court has sentenced an evangelical pastor to a year of hard labor and house arrest for not sending his two children to state schools and opting to educate them at home instead.
According to International Christian Concern, Pastor Ramon Rigal, leader of Iglesia de Dios en Cristo, has openly stated that his decision to homeschool his children was due to his Christian faith.
Guantanamo courts had originally sentenced Rigal to one-year imprisonment, but a recent adjudication led to the reduction of his punishment.
Rigal said that his legal team had proved that he did not commit any serious criminal act, but despite a strong legal showing, he was still sentenced to hard labor and house arrest.
Pastor Mario F. Barroso, a religious freedom activist from the Patmos Institute and a close friend of Rigal, warned that the heavy labor sentence is still a serious punishment.
"Correctional labor is a form of forced physical punishment, where the state typically chooses the locations and the working conditions," Barroso said.
"People sentenced to this penalty are assigned to a ranch or a farm of some sort, and believe me it's not light work," he added.
Rigal and his wife, Adya, were taken into custody in February after Cuban authorities realized that they were not sending their children to a state school.
When the authorities came to take the couple to the police station, they begged the police officers not to arrest them in front of their children and they promised to go to the station themselves later.
When they arrived at the station, the Rigals were charged with "acting contrary to the normal development of a minor."
In April, Rigal was sentenced to a year in prison, while his wife was placed under house arrest.
The case garnered international attention in May, prompting a protest outside the Embassy of Cuba in Washington D.C. in support of the pastor. The protesters tried to deliver a petition signed by nearly 31,000 people to the Cuban government, but they were turned away by the embassy officials.
The Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) noted that the latest ruling does not vacate the pastor's conviction, nor does it eradicate the house arrest order against his wife.
The pastor vowed that he still would not send his children to public school no matter what.
"I will continue to fight and not give in to their impositions and I will not take the children to school," the pastor said.
"This fight must be continued until they let me educate my children quietly in my house or let me leave the country," he continued.