Annie and Domenic Johansson
A judge has handed defeat to a social services agency that dispatched police officers to an India-bound jetliner more than two years ago to take into custody a 7-year-old boy because he was being homeschooled.
Word of the victory – that the government is not allowed to terminate the rights of the boy’s parents – comes from Ruby Harrold-Claesson, president of the Nordic Human Rights Council.
Harrold-Claesson, who also has been reinstated as the representative for the parents months after she was removed on the objections of the Gotland, Sweden, social services agency, said it’s a hopeful sign in the long-running custody dispute over Domenic Johansson, now 10.
“It is pretty obvious that the social workers and the social council were afraid that, with me as public counsel for [father] Christer [Johansson], the administrative court in Stockholm would have released Domenic from public care,” she explained in an email forwarded to WND.
Michael Donnelly, director of international relations at Home School Legal Defense Association, says this decision offers a glimmer of light in the case.
“I am hopeful that this is the beginning of the end to the horrific treatment these people have suffered at the hands of Swedish authorities over the past two and a half years,” he said. “The Johansson family have endured unspeakable tyranny over their decision to homeschool their child and then to attempt to leave Sweden. Sweden’s behavior in this case has been shocking.”
His organization and representatives of the Alliance Defense Fund are pursuing a case over the custody battle before the European Court of Human Rights.
“I hope that this court decision is the beginning of the end of the gross violations of human rights that [mother] Annie, Christer and Domenic have been subjected to at the hands of the social workers and the social council in Gotland,” Harrold-Claesson said.
The Swedish social services committee first sought to end the parental rights of Annie and Christer Johansson in October. The new decision by the Gotland court against social services marks a significant departure from previous decisions in the case, Harrold-Claesson said.
“The social services are afraid of me because I stand up to them,” said Harrold-Claesson. “There are few lawyers in Sweden who dare to. But in Jamaica where I grew up this kind of treatment of families is unheard of. Too many magistrates simply do the bidding of the all-powerful Swedish social services and this case is no different to the scores I have litigated over the years.”
Harrold-Claesson had been dismissed from the case by Magistrate Magnus Schultzberg after social services officials asked that she be prevented from participating.
However, the lawyer appointed by the court, Torsten Backstrand, stepped down when he learned of the family’s request to be represented by Harrold-Claesson. There is also a requirement under Europe’s human rights laws that individuals have a right to choose their representation.
“The latest magistrate has recognized the family’s right to have me and I applaud her decision to keep this family together, at least on paper, for now. We will continue this fight for justice and until Domenic goes home,” Harrold-Claesson said.
The Johansson family battle with the Swedish government began in June 2009 when Domenic – then 7– was forcibly removed from his parents while the family was on board an airplane bound for Annie’s homeland of India.
“Swedish police snatched Domenic without a warrant, placed him in state custody, and have not charged the Johanssons with a crime. Authorities have subsequently pointed to some minor dental problems and a spotty vaccination history as justification for continuing to hold Dominic in state custody,” the HSLDA report said.
The custody dispute stemmed from a battle between parents and the local school district over their plans to homeschool Domenic.
The HSLDA’s report said the local court’s decision “indicates a possible shift in the way the case is being handled and offers a breath of hope.”
The European Court of Human Rights has yet to schedule a hearing in the case, and its decision could have the weight of ordering Sweden to pay damages, officials said.
Christer and Domenic Johansson
“Sweden continues to go down a frightening path of educational tyranny as it implements harsh policies causing more and more homeschooling Swedes to flee the country,” Donnelly told WND earlier. He noted in recent months at least three families have relocated from Sweden to neighboring countries under pressure because educational officials have reported them to social authorities.
He said social services have virtually unlimited power to take children from families and “cause great pain and suffering if they choose to.”
The HSLDA also has petitioned Sweden to reunite the family and has condemned the continued separation of Domenic from his parents. At this point, the case has been heard at every level of the Swedish court system, and the actions of social services have been upheld.
Donnelly earlier described Sweden’s treatment of the family as “barbaric.”
“Their most basic of human rights have been violated and no civilized country should permit this kind of treatment,” he said at the time.
In a communication addressed to WND a few weeks ago, Christer Johannson said the controversial case has decimated his family by piling tragedy upon tragedy. He spoke of how his own father and mother, Domenic’s grandparents, and an uncle had sought to meet with Domenic
“My mother and father then waited for the day to arrive, but the social
services called up, I believe, late the night before meeting, or the same morning
and said, ‘Domenic does not want to see you now,’ and they canceled
that meeting,” he told WND.
Later, they called again to set up a meeting.
“Domenic especially wanted to see his grandma … finally at the meeting, Domenic ran to my dad and my brother, only to hear that his grandmother and best friend had passed away that morning.”
He said Domenic’s last memory of his grandmother is when armed police officers came to “recapture” him last Thanksgiving after Christer had taken him home to see family members following a court-supervised visit.
For that visit, Christer spent weeks in jail.
The American groups working on behalf of the Johannsons have assembled a petition webpage for those interested in expressing their alarm over the case to the Swedish government.
WND has reported that several other cases in which children were taken by authorities in Sweden were resolved over recent months when parents had a private detective literally abduct their own children from social services and reunite the families in another country.
That action drew the qualified praise of Harrold-Claeson, whose group aims to “increase the rights and freedoms of private individuals and their families and strengthen respect for basic human rights and fundamental freedoms in the Nordic countries.”
Harrold-Claeson said it was strange that social service agents don’t realize that their interventions in families by removing the children and placing them in foster homes among total strangers are more traumatizing than the eventual problems of the parents.
She also said Swedish authorities believe “children are the property of the state to be bought and sold as commodities. Taking children into care and placing them in foster homes is an … industry in which children’s and the parents and relatives and their health – both physical and mental – is destroyed beyond repair.”
She told WND that the state “has decided to usurp the powers of the parents and replace parental authority over children by delivering them into the hands of the civil servants, who per definition should be servants, not masters.”
She called on Americans to condemn such practices and watch their own backs, since she’s seen similar practices developing in the U.S.
The case also is being followed by a blog called FriendsofDomenic.
Gustaf Hofstedt, president of the local social services board in Gotland where the family lives, earlier 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.”
Social services workers since then have declined to respond to WND questions submitted via email.