Four years ago a seven-year-old boy was taken from his parents as the family boarded an international flight. Armed police seized the boy, although they did not have arrest warrants, and he was placed in a foster home. The boy has still not been restored to his parents, and for three years they have not been allowed to see him at all.

What on earth could these parents have done to their child? Had they abused and starved him? Neglected him and damaged his health? Psychologically tortured him?

No, none of those things.

So where could this nightmarish scenario have occurred – North Korea? Afghanistan?

No, Sweden. Family-friendly, social-laboratory-of-Europe Sweden.

johanssonAnd the crime of Annie and Christer Johansson? Not sending their son, Domenic, to school. (Family pictured right.) They insisted on educating him at home. That’s illegal in Sweden – or it is now; amazingly, it wasn’t when Domenic was first taken into custody.

Now, let’s concede that some homeschooling parents don’t make a very good job of it – just as some teachers don’t teach all that well in school. There might even be parents who use homeschooling to cover up neglect and abuse of their children – which can also happen to kids who do attend school, although teachers do not always notice or report these things.

But when the Johanssons finally (after three years!) got their case reviewed by a district court in Gotland last year, 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 his being seized by the authorities in 2009. The court therefore restored the Johanssons’ parental rights.

But Gotland (province) Social Services persisted, and managed to get a mid-level appeal court to overturn the district court ruling. Now the couple, with the aid of the US-based Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) and the Alliance Defending Freedom, have taken their case to the Supreme Court of Sweden. They are being represented by Ruby Harrold-Claesson of the Nordic Committee on Human Rights.

The HSLDA said, “The strain of the forced separation is inflicting unbearable pain and pressure on the family who still live on the same island just miles from where their son lives – yet they are not permitted to have any contact with him whatsoever.”

The Indian-born mother, Annie, is said to be in a state of mental breakdown and there are fears for her life. A photo of Domenic circulating on the internet from early in his “captivity” shows him looking pale and thin-faced.

It has been left to Christian media and homeschooling networks to publicise this case – a Google search turns up only one appearance in a major news outlet, the Daily Telegraph, and that a blog post by a Swedish supporter three years ago – so it is difficult to get any other angle on the case (unless you read Swedish, I guess). There may be something about the Johanssons that is dubious, but it is hard to see that it could be bad enough to warrant the draconian and inhuman way they and their son have been treated.

Christian and homeschooling sources put it down to Big Brother syndrome in Sweden that wants to indoctrinate children with liberal ideology through schools. The HSLD group says the case “demonstrates what can happen when the family is not respected as an integral unit of society.”

And the Johansson’s is not the only case of its kind. Last year one of the leading advocates of homeschooling, Jonas Himmelstrand, left Sweden with his family and joined similar “exiles” on an island belonging to Finland. The social services authority, after harassing and fining the family for several years, warned them that if they wanted to home educate safely they should leave Sweden.

Alliance Defending Freedom and HSLDA are encouraging concerned people from all over the world to participate in an HSLDA-sponsored letter-writing campaign that asks the Supreme Court of Sweden to accept the case Johansson v. Gotland Social Services and return Domenic to his parents.

I suppose there’s always the European Court of Human Rights to appeal to after that, although I would not be sure of their chances at that tribunal.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet