Finland‘s finance minister has deleted an Instagram post and issued an apology following criticism by a human rights group that embarrassed the new, women-led government days after it took office.
Katri Kulmuni, who became finance minister only this week, had posted an informal poll on whether the government should allow Finnish women with links to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) group to return from Syria, or just their children.
The poll posted on Thursday asked her Instagram followers whether they backed repatriating “children only” or “children and mothers” from the al-Hol camp in a part of Syria held by Kurds.
Kulmuni’s Centre Party opposes letting the mothers return to Finland.
Kulmuni, 32, said she had been expressing the views of the Centre Party which she leads, highlighting divisions on the issue with other parties in the five-party governing coalition.
“My aim to have a discussion on social media about a complicated topic failed. I apologise for the poll,” Kulmuni tweeted on Friday.
“My IG [Instagram] poll aroused condemnation, it has been removed. The style was unsuccessful.”
On Thursday, Andrew Stroehlein, the European media director of the Human Rights Watch (HRW), criticised the post, asking Finland to “respect the rights of its citizens in all cases”.
“Seriously, Finland? This is awful, if true,” he posted on Twitter.
This is awful, if true. A state should respect the rights of its citizens in all cases, not put life-and-death decisions about those citizens to a public referendum on social media.
What’s next, public hangings based on the volume of stadium cheers? https://t.co/J1Ggl5dx3h
— Andrew Stroehlein (@astroehlein) December 12, 2019
The criticism of the poll was all the more embarrassing as new Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Wednesday she would not alter her social media behaviour but would be careful in what she posts.
Marin, a Social Democrat, said on Wednesday the government had given its “silent blessing” for the foreign ministry to go ahead with a plan to repatriate the children.
But the children cannot be repatriated without their mothers because the Syrian Kurdish forces oppose separating the children and their mothers, Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said.
Finland is one of many European Union countries trying to decide what to do about their citizens, with 11 Finnish women and more than 30 children held at al-Hol, and the government faces questioning in Parliament on the issue on Tuesday.
The Centre Party has been alarmed by the rise in polls of the nationalist Finns Party, which says repatriating ISIL detainees could endanger Finland’s security.