Taliban Enforcing Face-Cover Order for Female TV Anchors

ISLAMABAD — Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers on Sunday began enforcing an order requiring all female TV news anchors in the country to cover their faces while on-air. Rights activists condemn the move as a part of an extreme shift.

A handful of news media outlets did not comply with the order after it was made public on Thursday. But on Sunday, most female anchors were seen with their faces covered after the Taliban’s Vice and Virtue Ministry began enforcing the decree.

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 programs,” said Sonia Niazi, a TV anchor with TOLOnews. In an act of solidarity with female colleagues, the channel’s male personnel covered their faces with masks, including the main evening news reader.

An official from the local media confirmed that the station had been given this order last week, and on Sunday they were forced to follow it up after receiving a warning not to discuss it. To avoid retribution by Taliban authorities, he agreed to speak on the condition that his station and he remain anonymous.

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

The Taliban seized power in August and initially seemed to be able to relax some of their restrictions by announcing that there was no dress code for females. In recent weeks they have taken a hardline turn that confirms the worst fears of rights advocates and has further complicated Taliban relations with an international community already insecure.

The Taliban had ordered women to cover their heads with clothing, leaving only the eyes exposed. 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 jail time.

Taliban leaders have also banned girls from going to school after sixth grade. This is a reversal of previous Taliban promises that all girls would be allowed education.

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