On Dec. 18, Swedish authorities arrested Azizul Raheem Awalludin, a Tourism Malaysia director in Stockholm, and his wife Shalwati Nurshal, a school teacher, after they reportedly smacked their 12-year-old son on his hand for not performing his prayers.
As there is no bail system in Sweden, the couple, in their early 40s, have been in custody since December and are awaiting a trial, The Star reported.
Their four children, who have been placed in a foster home in Sweden, have not been permitted to see their parents.
In Sweden, all forms of corporal punishment, including spanking, slapping, pinching, hair-pulling and whipping, are against the law. In 1979, it was the first country to ban physical punishment against children in any circumstances.
Depending on the severity of the crime, parents who are charged with corporal punishment are liable to be imprisoned for six months to 10 years.
A source told The Star that the parents had hit their son on his hands for not performing his prayers, but he did not suffer any bruises. However, when a school counselor was informed of this, the parents were arrested and the children were taken away to a foster home.
The four children, a 14-year-old girl, and three boys aged 12, 11, and 7, are reportedly unhappy in their non-Muslim foster home because their foster parents have a dog (which is forbidden in Islam) and also because they have to share non-halal utensils with them.
Malaysia's foreign minister told a Malaysian news website, Astro Awani, that taking action based on hearsay, "might affect bilateral relations."
He said, "We have to respect the laws of that particular country and whatever help that can be given will have to go through the proper channels and procedure."
On Jan. 19, a Malaysian journalist, Joe Lee, (@klubbkiddkl) started a Twitter campaign demanding the release of the couple using the hashtag, #SwedenLetThemGo.
Lee directed his tweets to the Embassy of Sweden in Kuala Lumpur.
His tweets, sent to over 180,000 of his Twitter followers, asked Malaysians to unite and fight for the couple's cause.
Since then, several Malaysians on Twitter contributed to the hashtag #SwedenLetThemGo, demanding the release of the parents and asking authorities to reunite them with their children.
Some cited the cultural differences between raising children in Asia and Europe.
Others were concerned about the children's separation from their parents in a foreign country.
The Swedish embassy responded that they could not comment on the ongoing case.
A Facebook page, Bring Shal and Family Home, was created on Jan. 18 and has garnered more than 8,000 likes.
The page posted a screenshot from the Facebook page of the couple's 14-year-old daughter Aisyah, which read, "We are sad... we need mummy and daddy... we miss them so much...please come back to us... we can't live without them."
Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Tasneem Nashrulla at email@example.com.
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