STOCKHOLM, Sweden – More than four years after Swedish authorities seized their son, Domenic, over homeschooling, parents Christer and Annie Johansson are unveiling a strategy they hope will reunite their family before Christmas.
The U.S.-based Home School Legal Defense Association this week asked the global home-education community to join forces with the Johansson family to increase the pressure on officials in Sweden.
Other Swedish and international organizations are helping to ramp up the efforts as well, including the prominent group Alliance Defending Freedom.
Among other strategies, HSLDA and the Johansson family are asking concerned people around the world to contact Swedish authorities and demand justice.
According to legal experts, officials violated multiple human rights enshrined in international treaties to which the Swedish government is a party: the right of parents to direct the education of their children, family life, due process, travel and more.
“The seizure of the child without a valid court order, from a plane he was lawfully entitled to be on, the detention by the state in foster care with virtually zero contact with his family and finally the termination of parental rights is a clear violation of international human rights standards,” said HSLDA founder and Chairman Michael Farris, who holds a master of law degree in public international law from the University of London.
Christer and Annie are also working with local families, politicians and embattled Swedish homeschoolers to keep domestic pressure on officials, which they hope will eventually help to get their son back.
The Johansson case, which sparked a global outcry among human rights activists and home educators, began with a dispute over homeschooling between the parents and local officials.
When the family tried to leave Sweden in 2009 for India, the mother’s homeland, armed police stormed the plane and abducted young Domenic without a warrant or court order.
Numerous experts and attorneys have described the incident as a brazen example of “state-napping.”
“Such callous disregard by courts, agencies and even elected officials sounds like a totalitarian regime from bygone communist days, not Sweden,” said HSLDA international attorney and Director of International Affairs Michael Donnelly.
“The anguish this family has suffered is immeasurable,” he said. “Their son is alive, but dead to them, and why? Because some government bureaucrat didn’t like homeschooling? Astounding.”
Two years ago, following a long and widely criticized legal process, an appeals court finally reversed a lower court decision that had concluded, based on extensive testimony of friends and family, that the Johanssons were good parents.
|Christer and Domenic Johansson|
The appeals court severed all legal rights of the parents and placed Domenic up for adoption.
Annie and Christer, however, had not seen their son since before the ruling.
“We don’t know anything about our son – we haven’t seen him nor talked to him since November 2010,” Christer told WND. “We don’t get any information whatsoever.
“Neither are we getting the documentation from the CPS workers so we can go further with our case to the European Court of Human Rights,” he said.
He added that attorneys involved in his case from Sweden and around the world have done a “fantastic job.”
After citing homeschooling to justify the seizure of Domenic, which was not further restricted until 2011, authorities later pointed to some baby-teeth cavities that the family was planning to treat in India.
Officials also argued that the boy had not received all of his recommended vaccines, which are optional under Swedish law.
Legal experts from around the world have told WND that the pretexts cited to seize Domenic do not stand up to scrutiny, especially because homeschooling was legal in Sweden at the time and the right to homeschool is guaranteed under multiple human rights treaties.
“No legitimate justification has ever been produced to defend the seizure or the ongoing custody of the boy,” HSLDA said in a statement released Tuesday.
ADF has also been speaking out, rallying support and cooperating with the HSLDA in an effort to get the Johansson case heard at the European Court of Human Rights.
“The treatment this family has received is inhumane,” said Roger Kiska, senior counsel for the organization and director of its European office.
“The fact that only one Swedish court has ruled in their favor is hard to understand,” Kiska said. “Criminals are treated with more humanity than the Johansson family. We will continue to seek review of this horrible situation in international courts and tribunals until justice is done.”
So far, the European court has ignored the pleas.
A chance for justice
Now, with an unprecedented wave of child seizures by authorities on the island of Gotland, where the Johansson family lives, an official investigation into potential abuses is underway, local media outlets reported.
Christer believes this may represent an opportunity to highlight what he described to WND as an extreme violation of his family’s human rights – and a chance to be re-united with his son after four years of anguish.
Working together with other families on the island whose children have been seized for allegedly dubious reasons, Christer founded the group “Gotland Human Rights Protest.”
“The social services board has raised concerns about the many state-nappings, so we dived into that discussion with force and will now demand our kids back,” the distraught but hopeful father told WND last week, pointing to the recent probe into the surge in government seizures of children.
“I know this is the time for us to do what we can,” he added. “I am aiming to celebrate Christmas with my son for the first time since 2008.”
The last time the Johansson parents met with a Swedish politician, “it ended with, ‘I am so sorry Annie what Sweden has done to you,'” Christer said.
“That’s the spirit!” he continued. “Annie was relieved after that, but only for a while, now she’s back concentrating on staying somewhat alive.”
Strategies for victory
Christer said that his organization has already started to apply “maximum pressure” on child-welfare authorities, even getting the local press involved.
“We demand a discussion with authorities to begin with,” he said, adding that officials have mostly ignored the injustices thus far, but support is growing. “We feel that we need to shape this organization to our needs.”
“As far as responsibilities go about this error, we now demand to see empathy and justice from the Swedish authorities, a service we have paid for ten-fold,” Christer continued.
Christer said that working together with the growing numbers of concerned activists, experts, victims, homeschoolers, attorneys, politicians and reporters, authorities will no longer be able to ignore his pleas.
Among other efforts, Christer hopes to have local authorities investigate the case for misconduct, violations of human rights and abuses of power.
“I am hopeful that some of our local politicians will look more closely into these abuses and take action to correct these injustices,” Christer told HSLDA.
“We have been without our only son for so long it is incredibly difficult for us,” he added. “Especially my wife, whose health has been severely damaged by this ordeal.”
All Christer and Annie want is their son back, he said.
“We are just getting started,” he added.
Local officials have repeatedly refused to comment to WND and other media outlets about the case, citing privacy laws.
Actions for international supporters
With recent changes in the local political situation offering a glimmer of hope to the family, the Johanssons’ allies around the world are stepping up their efforts to re-unite the family.
In particular, the organization asked that concerned individuals around the world reach out to Gotland Regional Council Member Hanna Westeren at firstname.lastname@example.org. A telephone number also was listed on the HSLDA site.
Another official identified by HSLDA was Christina Godarve, chief of the Gotland social services board, who can be reached at email@example.com.
“Those who communicate with Ms. Westeren may want to make the point that the treatment of the family is inhumane, and that she should do all she can in her power to correct this injustice,” HSLDA said in the statement.
Other actions the group mentioned include contacting the editors of two local newspapers, Gotland Tindingar and Gotland Allehanda, and asking them to investigate the case. The HSLDA also listed their contact details.
“Posting thoughts on the Facebook pages of these local newspapers [here and here] may make more people aware of this tragedy on their island and encourage citizens and the media to do more about it,” HSLDA added.
The family is thankful for the outpouring of international support.
“We are so grateful for the thoughts, prayers and intervention of others from abroad,” Christer noted.
The big picture
Dozens of families have already fled abroad, including Jonas Himmelstrand, the chief of the Swedish Homeschooling Association, ROHUS, who fled to Finland with his wife and children.
“We are doing comparatively well. Our family is intact,” Himmelstrand told WND recently in an interview about massive fines levied against him by Swedish authorities – even while living abroad in exile – for failing to send his children to government schools.
“Dominic Johansson’s family is a much more tragic case, and they are not alone either, unfortunately,” he added.
Sweden, Himmelstrand continued, has reached a point where “the ignorance and immaturity of our government in family policy matters has come into open conflict with … more and more aware citizens, and the government chooses control and oppression.”
HSLDA’s Donnelly echoed those concerns in comments to WND, saying authorities were violating fundamental rights of citizens.
“Sweden is a signatory to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and other human rights instruments … all of which recognize the critical role of parents in making education decisions for their children and which also require governments to respect the philosophical and religious convictions of families,” he said. “As a nation Sweden is not living up to these obligations.”
Sweden is not alone among Western nations in oppressing homeschooling families, either, Donnelly continued.
“Germany continues to stand out as an aggressive persecutor of homeschooling families,” he said.
As WND reported in August, one of the most extreme examples of the persecution featured a squad of armed police descending on the Wunderlich family to seize their four homeschooled children.
While the children were rescued following three weeks of international pressure, the case is far resolved, with authorities returning the children only on the condition that they are sent to government school.
“Judges in the case have refused so far to let the family emigrate demonstrating the hostility to home education,” Donnelly explained.
HSLDA and other organizations involved in the cases said they hope to see officials in Sweden and Germany respect the rights of parents to educate their children.
If and when that may happen, though, remains uncertain.