Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers have begun enforcing an order requiring all female TV news presenters in the country to cover their faces while on air, as part of a hardline shift that has drawn condemnation from rights activists.
After the order was announced on Thursday, only a handful of news outlets complied. However, on Sunday most female presenters were seen with their faces covered after the Taliban’s Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice began enforcing the decree.
The Ministry of Information and Culture previously announced that the policy was “final and non-negotiable”.
Sonia Niazi, a TV presenter with Tolo News, said: “It is just an outside culture imposed on us forcing us to wear a mask and that can create a problem for us while presenting our programmes.”
A local media official confirmed that his station had received the order last week but on Sunday was forced to implement it after being told it was not up for discussion. He spoke on condition that he and his station remained anonymous for fear of retribution by Taliban authorities.
During the Taliban’s last time in power in Afghanistan, between 1996 and 2001, they imposed overwhelming restrictions on women, requiring them to wear the whole-body covering of a burqa and barring them from public life and education.
After they seized power again in August, the Taliban initially appeared to have moderated their restrictions, announcing no dress code for women. However, in recent weeks they have made a sharp, hardline pivot that has confirmed the worst fears of rights activists and further complicated Taliban dealings with an already distrustful international community.
Earlier this month, the Taliban ordered all women in public to wear head-to-toe clothing that leaves only their eyes visible. The decree said women should leave the home only when necessary and that male relatives would face punishment for women’s dress-code violations, starting with a summons and escalating to court hearings and imprisonment.
The Taliban leadership has also barred girls from attending school after the sixth grade, reversing previous promises by officials that girls of all ages would be allowed an education.