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Taliban enforces face-cover order for women TV anchors

TV presenter Khatereh Ahmadi wears a face covering as she reads the news in Kabul on Sunday (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)
TV presenter Khatereh Ahmadi wears a face covering as she reads the news in Kabul on Sunday (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers have begun enforcing an order requiring all female TV news anchors in the country to cover their faces while on-air.

The move is part of a hard-line shift which has drawn condemnation from human rights activists.

After the order was announced on Thursday, only a handful of news outlets complied. But on Sunday, most female anchors were seen with their faces covered after the Taliban’s vice and virtue ministry began enforcing the decree.

TV presenter Khatereh Ahmadi wears a face covering as she reads the news on Sunday
TV presenter Khatereh Ahmadi wears a face covering as she reads the news on Sunday (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

The information and culture ministry previously announced that the policy was “final and non-negotiable”.

“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,” Sonia Niazi, a TV anchor with TOLOnews, said.

A local media official confirmed that his station had received the order last week but it was forced to implement it on Sunday after being told it was not up for discussion.

The last time the Taliban was in power in Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001, they imposed overwhelming restrictions on women, requiring them to wear the all-encompassing burqa and barring them from public life and education.

TV anchor Sonia Niazi covers her face while working in a studio on Sunday
TV anchor Sonia Niazi covers her face while working in a studio (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

After they seized power again in August, the Taliban initially appeared to have somewhat moderated their restrictions, announcing no dress code for women. But in recent weeks, they have made a sharp, hard-line pivot that has confirmed the worst fears of human 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 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 jail time.

The Taliban leadership has also barred girls from attending school after year six, reversing previous promises by Taliban officials that girls of all ages would be allowed an education.