Afghanistan's Taliban rulers have begun imposing an order requiring female TV news presenters to cover their faces while on the air, as part of a hardline shift that has drawn condemnation from rights activists.
Only a handful of news outlets complied after the order was announced on Thursday. On Sunday, most female presenters were seen with their faces covered by the Taliban's Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, 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 was just an outside culture imposed on us forcing us to wear a mask and can cause a problem for us while presenting our programmes. A local media official confirmed that his station had received the order last week, but was forced to implement it on Sunday after being told it was not up for discussion. He stated on condition that he and his station remained anonymous for fear of retribution by the Taliban authorities.
Between 1996 and 2001, the Taliban imposed enormous restrictions on women, requiring them to wear the full-body covering of a burqa and banning them from public life and education during their last time in power in Afghanistan.
After seized power in August, the Taliban initially appeared to have moderated their restrictions, announcing no dress code for women. In recent weeks they have made a sharp, hardline pivot that 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.