Jaleh Tavakoli faces continued threats from Danish Social Supervising Authority to take away her foster child due to her social media presence.
In early March 2019 Danish-Iranian blogger and author Jaleh Tavakoli and her husband received a letter of notification from the Danish Social Supervising Authority that their approval as a foster parents had been rescinded and they were “considered incompatible with the task as a foster family.” The letter informed that they were to lose foster custody of their eight year old daughter who has been with the family since she was 48 hours old. The SSA initiated this action as a result of Ms. Tavakoli having been charged under Danish penal code section 264d for sharing the online video of Louisa Vesterager Jespersen and Maren Ueland being killed by ISIS terrorists in Morocco. Ms.Tavakoli has admitted to sharing the online video, as she felt it to be in the public interest. She says she was also attempting to dispel conspiracy theories and to inform about the grave threat of Islamic Terrorism.
The SSA letter mentioned not only the serious nature of the criminal charge but that the Social Supervising Authority had found Ms. Tavakoli’s “participation in the public debate” and her choice to “communicate politically” as compromising to her role as a parent. The SSA quite troublingly implies that Ms. Tavakoli’s political speech and her engagement in public and civic life is disqualifying.
Since the initial letter there has been an outpouring of support for the Tavakolis as well as concern from numerous Ministers, Parliamentary figures and children’s welfare advocates regarding the free expression implications of removing a child from loving parents simply for “appearing in the public debate”. Social and Children’s Affairs Minister Mai Mercado had commented on the case and posted on Facebook, “I am speechless” as well as stating “I must say quite clearly that if the rules in any way cause children in foster care to get caught, then I am ready to make the rules immediately and I have already been informed that it can be urgently dealt with if it is necessary…” Additionally, Lisbeth Zornig Andersen, former chair of Denmark’s National Council for Children, stated in an interview with Berlingske, “It’s totally crazy and totally out of proportion. The child has been with Jaleh Tavakoli and her husband since she was very small. She can’t remember anything else […] It’s deeply unfair to the child”. Zornig continues: “You risk damaging the child seriously […] Social supervision has today changed the fate of a little girl in a way that – I think – can be very serious”
The Tavakoli family responded to the Social Supervising Authority with a letter of their own emphasising “We are a family […] My daughter is happy, develops completely normal and is very outgoing […] My child thrives […] “This is not an Amnesty International story of a blogger’s freedom of speech in Sudan, Saudi Arabia or Iran. You, in Social Supervision East, have actually made an unprecedented totalitarian and powerful decision […] Social Supervision East wants to remove our daughter due to my role as a public figure, and the media exposure of me in this context and the fact that I am accused, not formally charged or convicted”
In a second letter to Jaleh Tavakoli, her husband and their lawyer, Karoly Németh, the Social Supervision Authority appears to take a somewhat more conciliatory tone, the letter states “[…] would very much like to note that the social supervision did not intend to relate to the freedom of expression of the foster family, as foster families have the same freedom of expression as all other citizens in Denmark”. Yet the SSA continues to maintain “significant questions to the family’s morals or ethics” and restates that Ms. Tavakoli “challenges the aforementioned perspectives and the fact that you step forward in the public debate in leading Danish media – printed and electronic, can compromise your role as a foster parent.”
The Social Supervising Authority also attempts to insist that Jaleh Tavakoli’s public political engagement and criticism of Islamic fundamentalism has no bearing the decision to revoke the couple’s approval as foster parents and remove their daughter. Despite their assurances that Ms. Tavavkoli possesses full freedom of expression as the SSA says in their second letter, it nevertheless states “approval as foster parents there is an added obligation […] That you, Jaleh, through your actions on social media in the actual case do not sufficiently protect your foster child and fail to act as the ‘digital role model’ […] you, in connection with your participation in the public debate, have shared a video, whose rough content can raise doubt to your judgement in regard to your role as a general approved foster family.”
The letter again blames the victim, (as did the first communication), Jaleh Tavakoli, for any threats and harassment she has received and informs the family that there is “so much doubt about your possibility of keeping your approval as foster parents in the future.” Minister Marcado while aware of the potential removal of the Tavakoli’s daughter is unable to issue a ruling on the case however has stated in response to a letter from Jaleh Tavakoli “[…] promptly asked the Social Supervision East for an account of the course in your case, and the general considerations that the case has given the Authority cause.”
Danish People’s Party’s chief executive, Martin Henriksen responded to the minister’s call for an audit “It sends an important signal that there is attention to the matter. The minister does not say it directly, but I think that the message points to the fact that the audit has not handled the case well.” He goes on to say “It is so gross that oversight should go public and apologise to that family and personally bring them an apology. What they have exposed to the family is completely unheard of. It is quite clear that the Authority intended to remove the child on the basis of Jaleh Tavakoli’s speeches and act in public debate. We cannot have a practice where you can remove children or foster children from otherwise well-functioning families because they say some things in the public debate that you do not like. The audit will have to apologise, so that you understand internally in the system and out in the community that this has been a one-off performance.”
According to Tavakoli, there is cause for hope, the city of Copenhagen has noted the couple’s ‘general care permit’ “meets the requirements of maintaining” foster placement. A clear signal from the City of Copenhagen that they may resume the couple’s application for “concrete care approval” if the Social Supervisory Authority revokes their care permit. Moreover, Tavakoli feels the Social Supervisory Authority is now ready to re-evaluate the case, even though in the “so-called supplication letter” she received does seem to indicate otherwise as it makes mention that it “therefore not been deemed necessary to make a new assessment-report”. Regardless Jaleh Tavakoli has said “[…] they can see that she thrives. So, therefore, we do not think they can do anything stupid. It gives us much more peace of mind in our everyday lives.” It is critical that in the words of Social and Children’s Affairs Minister Mai Mercado that “the best [interest] of the child is always in focus”.