Bob Unruh joined WND in 2006 after nearly three decades with the Associated Press, as well as several Upper Midwest newspapers, where he covered everything from legislative battles and sports to tornadoes and homicidal survivalists. He is also a photographer whose scenic work has been used commercially.More ↓Less ↑
An appeals court panel in Sweden has imposed the “death penalty” on a homeschooling family, granting the state full custody of their son, who famously was “state-napped” from a jetliner in 2009 as the family prepared to move to India.
The appeals panel reversed a lower court ruling that granted Annie and Christer Johansson custody of their son, Domenic. But if the decision is not reversed again by the nation’ Supreme Court, the Johansson’s will lose their son, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association, which has been working on the case with the Alliance Defending Freedom.
The family was on board a jetliner minutes from departing Sweden for Annie’s home country of India when Domenic was seized in June 2009. The reason authorities initially gave for taking Domenic was that he had been homeschooled.
During the first months following his seizure, the parents were only permitted to visit Domenic once every two weeks. The visits soon became every five weeks, and in 2010, all visitations were cut off, HSLDA said.
“The United States Supreme Court has written that terminating parental rights is the family court equivalent of the death penalty,” HSLDA said.
The Johansson case in Sweden, the group said, “demonstrates what can happen when the family is not respected as an integral unit of society.”
In American courts, HSLDA explained, clear and convincing evidence, the civil equivalent of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” is necessary before parental rights are terminated.
It was last June when a Swedish district court said the parental rights would not be terminated. In a 23-page opinion, the court said it could not ignore the unanimous and extensive testimony of firsthand accounts of friends, family and others that Domenic Johansson was being properly cared for by his parents prior to Swedish authorities seizing him in 2009.
Michael Donnelly, HSLDA’s director for international affairs, called the latest decision “brutal.”
“After [the] district court victory we had hoped the end of this nightmare was approaching. At this point we can only hope that the Swedish Supreme Court will intervene to correct this grave injustice,” he said. “The facts have shown Annie and Christer Johansson to be good parents. It is unconscionable that a court in a democratic country like Sweden could find it is in the child’s interests to remain separated from these parents. The pain, suffering and harm done to this family are incalculable.”
An attorney for the Johansson family reported to HSLDA that the government had appealed the district court ruling continuing their parental rights.
Christer and Domenic Johansson
“According to the family’s attorney, the Social Welfare Committee had ignored a request to review the case for over a year. The law requires that such a request be acted on within four months. However, the agency did not schedule such a review until the appeals court seemed ready to rule on the case,” HSLDA’s report said.
It said a Dec. 19 date set for the review now likely will be ignored as the social authorities have won their appeal and now have unrestricted guardianship over Dominic.
The case has attracted international attention, and HSLDA reported two official representatives of the Indian government attended to observe the proceedings at the appeals court. In an interview after the hearing, Rakesh Misra, the Indian Embassy to Sweden’s first secretary, made a statement during a break in the hearing.
“I don’t see how they can claim that these are not good parents. My impression is that these are good parents,” he told the family’s attorney, HSLDA said.
“The Embassy [of India] may send a letter to the Swedish State Department and the Justice Department with our views on the case,” stated Misra after the case in an interview with a Swedish newspaper, noting that the embassy has full respect for the legal process and will not intervene.
“However, we believe this is a case where you must carefully weigh both child’s rights and parents’ rights.”
Supporters said the toll of the “state-napping” on the family has been costly.
Ruby Harrold-Claesson, president of the Nordic Committee on Human Rights, called the decision atrocious.
“This is a despicable act,” she told HSLDA. “I don’t know how these judges can have done this. The chief judge wrote a strong dissent that I hope will make an impact on the Swedish Supreme Court. We will appeal this horrible decision.”
She reported Domenic’s mother, Annie, collapsed when the decision was announced.
“How can anyone endure this kind of torture for so long, I don’t know. It’s unbearable to see how the pride of government officials is wrecking the lives of the Johanssons and others like them. These people have broken the law by taking this boy without justification and keeping him for three-and-a-half years. It’s uncivilized.”
She said complaints about the court system’s human rights violations are being filed all over.
“Something has to be done,” she said. “Families are being trampled, and the court systems virtually always side with the social workers against families. It is a terrible situation.”
HSLDA said it would continue to fight on behalf of the family.
WND also has reported on several cases in which children were taken by authorities in Sweden over homeschooling. In one case, a private detective literally abducted back the children and reunited them with their parents, who had moved out of the country.
The conflicts over homeschooling in Sweden are getting as contentious as in Germany, where numerous families have fled their home country instead of facing the crushing fines, jail sentences and even destruction of families.
In a dramatic case involving the Romeike family, a U.S. immigration judge granted political asylum in the U.S. because of the persecution they would face if they returned to Germany. The Obama administration is appealing the ruling, seeking to send the family back.
Donnelly said what is happening in Germany and Sweden needs to be noted in the United States because of the habit officials have of adopting controversial European policies.