Christer and Domenic Johansson

Judges at the European Court of Human Rights for more than six months have ignored a separated Swedish family’s plea for justice and reunification, and advocates for Christer and Annie Johansson say now it’s time for the citizens of the world to demand action.

“It is quite concerning that this court has not responded to the pleadings filed – it has been rumored that there may be a court official who is hostile to anti-Sweden applications,” said Michael Donnelly of the Home School Legal Defense Association, which is working on the case.

“Our hope is that a number of letters inquiring about the case from the public will get the needed attention on the case,” he said.

“You’ve Decided to Homeschool, Now What?”

His organization is working with the Alliance Defense Fund on an appeal to the court.

The case developed in mid-2009 when social services and police forcibly took custody of their son, Domenic, then 7, over government concerns he was being homeschooled. The local courts later denied the parents the legal representation they sought, demanding instead they be represented by a government-approved attorney. The courts ultimately ruled the state must keep custody of Domenic.

Ruby Harrold-Claesson, the president of the Nordic Committee for Human Rights, had been working on the family’s case but was ordered off by the court in favor of a locally appointed representative the family opposed. However, she has kept up on the case.

“I am absolutely astonished that they haven’t replied to any of the applications that [ADF attorney] Roger [Kiska] filed for Christer and family and sent him a case [number]. They haven’t replied to my fax letter of September 29, in which I inquired about the application,” she said in a statement to the HSLDA.

Donnelly noted that the ECHR case is separate from the “increasingly tragic events” surrounding the family.

But he said the case at the level of the regional court could be used to send a message about family rights.

“A judgment from the ECHR could order Sweden to pay damages and could be taken to European institutions such as the Council of Ministers to seek enforcement,” he said. “The sad truth is that there is no reparation that could ever make up for the damage done to this family by Swedish authorities. Domenic and his parents continue to live a nightmare and will be scarred by this experience for life. It is the kind of experience that is difficult to ever recover from.”

He continued, “Mr. Johansson has told me that he hopes his case may show the world what kinds of things can happen in Sweden, a country that, he suggests, is looked to by too many as a role model. His suffering is very deep however as he is held without bail waiting the outcome of his trial. Please keep this family in your thoughts and prayers and take action to encourage authorities involved in the case to take action that will help this family overcome these heartbreaking difficulties.”

The “nightmare” to which Donnelly referred was the continuing demands by government officials in Sweden to keep the parents and son apart.

It was just weeks ago that authorities jailed the father and ordered him to remain behind bars for taking his son hojme, following a state-supervised “visit,” to see other members of his family.

Reports have confirmed that authorities have ordered unspecified psychological studies or evaluations for Christer, pending his trial on charges of interfering with the state custody of his son.

Details have remained sketchy about the local court hearing, held just before Christmas, in the Gotland, Sweden, case. But a Swedish broadcast station website reported that Johansson is accused of kidnapping or unlawful detention for the Thanksgiving week incident in which he took his son, now 9, with him following a social services-supervised visit.

The government took custody of Domenic in mid-2009 when police officers stormed a jetliner which the family had boarded en route to a move to India, the home country for Domenic’s mother, Annie Johansson.

The HSLDA said now is the time for people to become involved in protecting the family’s rights.

“Although more than six months have now passed, the ECHR has failed to address the application, even though a special emergency measures order was requested. It is highly unusual that the Johanssons’ application still has not been assigned a case number. The court has also not responded to a letter requesting an explanation for the unusual delay. Instead, the application languishes while the Johanssons continue to endure the forced separation from their 9-year-old son Domenic,” the organization said.

It recommended contacting the ECHR with the following message:

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing in reference to the application put before the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of Christer, Annie, and Domenic Johansson from Sweden.

Although the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) and the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) submitted this application in June 2010, I have been informed that the Court has yet to assign it a case number. Nor has the Court answered letters from the applicants inquiring why the ECHR has been so slow to respond to the application.

Justice should be swift, and this family needs your help.

The Johansson family has been denied the right to make decisions regarding their son’s education, the right to leave their country, and the right to select their own legal counsel.

As a parent who enjoys the freedom to exercise my human rights, including the right of parents to direct the education of their children, the freedom of movement, the right to due process, I respectfully request that you explain why the Court has been so slow to respond to the Johansson’s application.
Yours sincerely,

[Your name]

The HSLDA said the letters should go to:

European Court of Human Rights
Council of Europe
67075 Strasbourg-Cedex
Fax : +33 (0)3 88 41 27 30

A standard weight letter should cost 98 cents through the U.S. Postal Service, HSLDA said.

The HSLDA said encouragement to the family can be addressed, also for 98 cents, to:

Christer and Annie Johansson
c/o Rune Johansson
Alva Gudings 363
623 46 Hemse

This is not the first time that European social workers have concluded “psychiatric” troubles are linked to homeschooling.

Melissa Busekros, after her return to her home. (Photo courtesy Klaus Guenther)

In 2007, German social workers forcibly took custody of a 15-year-old girl who was being homeschooled and held her for several months for evaluations in a psychiatric hospital.

Ultimately, when she turned 16 and was subject to different laws in Germany, she simply walked away from the custody in which she had been held and returned to her family. A court later returned legal custody to her family.

The original court decision had ordered police officers to take Melissa Busekros – then 15 – from her home, if necessary by force, and place her in a mental institution for a variety of evaluations. She was kept in custody from early February until April.

At that time, Wolfgang Drautz, consul general for the Federal Republic of Germany, commented on the issue on a blog, stating the government “has a legitimate interest in countering the rise of parallel societies that are based on religion or motivated by different world views and in integrating minorities into the population as a whole.”

Drautz said homeschool students’ test results may be as good as those in school, but “school teaches not only knowledge but also social conduct, encourages dialogue among people of different beliefs and cultures, and helps students to become responsible citizens.”

The German government’s defense of its “social” teachings and mandatory public school attendance was clarified during an earlier dispute on which WND reported, when a German family wrote to officials objecting to police officers picking their child up at home and delivering him to a public school.

“The minister of education does not share your attitudes toward so-called homeschooling,” said a government letter in response. “… You complain about the forced school escort of primary school children by the responsible local police officers. … In order to avoid this in future, the education authority is in conversation with the affected family in order to look for possibilities to bring the religious convictions of the family into line with the unalterable school attendance requirement.”

Annie and Domenic Johansson

It was a blog called FriendsofDomenic that earlier outlined a plan for concerned parents, homeschoolers and others around the world to let the Swedish authorities know the case is cause for alarm. The plan was for people around the globe to send a polite and direct message to the judge in the case.

The Alliance Defense Fund, an international public interest law team, has explained the latest controversy.

“Despite the ill-advised decision on the part of Mr. Johansson, the only menace here is a government drunk with its own power,” said Roger Kiska, legal counsel for ADF.

Gustaf Hofstedt, president of the local social services board in Gotland, has told WND by telephone from Sweden that there is more to the dispute than homeschooling, but he refused to explain.

“I understand the public debate has been that is a case that is only concerning the fact of homeschooling,” he told WND. “But that is not the case.”

Asked to explain, he said, “I can’t answer that question because of secrecy.”

There also is a petition on behalf of Domenic.

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