Religious freedom advocates are celebrating after Cuban authorities decided to release a Christian mother from jail.
Expósito Leyva was imprisoned along with her husband, Pastor Ramon Rigal, last April after refusing to send her children to a government-run school.
According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the couple had opted to homeschool the children in order to avoid them being indoctrinated with socialist and atheistic ideologies.
They were subsequently charged with “acts against the normal development of a minor,” put on trial and ultimately jailed, spending 11 months behind bars. Now, finally, she is free.
“While we welcome the release of Expósito and are particularly relieved that she can be reunited with her children, we believe that she should never have been imprisoned in the first place,” USCIRF Commissioner and civil rights lawyer Anurima Bhargava said in a statement.
“The charges brought against her and her husband are part of the Cuban government’s harassment, discrimination, and arbitrary detention of individuals simply seeking to practice their religion."
Speaking to CBN News, Bhargava said she hoped the release “indicates something that is positive” with regards to the Cuban government recognizing that imprisoning a parent simply because they decided to personally educate their child is “not something that is in line with religious freedom.”
Now, Bhargava hopes that the governing authorities will begin to see the vital importance of “making sure people are able to practice their faith in the way they and their families believe is important.”
Bhargava now urged the Cubans to release pastor Rigal – who is not due for release until next year – noting that his health is at grave risk while incarcerated.
"It's a concern right now particularly as we see many instances of prisons being a place in which people are contracting the COVID virus," she added.
A 2018 report on religious freedom released by the U.S. Embassy in Cuba revealed that the Cuban government is known to issue “threats, international and domestic travel restrictions, detentions, and violence against some religious leaders and their followers, and restricted the rights of prisoners to practice religion freely.”
“Media and religious leaders said the government continued to harass or detain members of religious groups advocating for greater religious and political freedom,” it added.
The Embassy noted that the U.S. government is in regular contact with religious groups and has “continued to call upon the government to respect the fundamental freedoms of its citizens, including the freedom of religion.”
Photo courtesy: Matthias Oben/Pexels
Will Maule is a British journalist who has spent the past several years working as a digital news editor. Since earning a degree in international relations and politics, Will has developed a particular interest in covering ethical issues, human rights and global religious persecution. Will's work has been featured in various outlets including The Spectator, Faithwire, CBN News, Spiked, The Federalist and Christian Headlines. Follow him on Twitter at @WillAMaule.