Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers have started to enforce a new order requiring all female TV news anchors in the country to cover their faces while on air.
After the order was announced 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.
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,” said Sonia Niazi, a TV anchor with Afghanistan’s TOLOnews.
Niazi told Al Jazeera that, for the first time, she “wasn’t feeling good at all”, while presenting programmes.
“This decree is unpredictable for all female presenters because Islam has not commanded us to cover our faces,” Niazi said.
“Every Islamic scholar and political figure has opposed this decree.”
The Taliban has said female presenters could wear medical masks instead. Regardless, Niazi said she feels trapped by the order to cover her face.
“If such decrees are issued and imposed on women, then women across Afghanistan will be eliminated, as we see now that women are being gradually eliminated,” she said.
In an act of solidarity with female colleagues, the channel’s male personnel covered their faces with masks, including the main evening newsreader.
A local media official confirmed his station had received the Taliban’s order last week but on Sunday it was forced to implement it after being told it was not up for discussion.
He spoke on the condition that he and his station remain anonymous for fear of retribution from Taliban authorities.
‘No basis in Islam’
During the Taliban’s last time 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.
After they seized power again in August, the Taliban initially appeared to have moderated somewhat their restrictions, announcing no dress code for women.
But in recent weeks, they have made a sharp, hardline pivot that has confirmed the worst fears of rights activists and further complicated the Taliban’s dealings with an already distrustful international community.
Earlier this month, the Taliban ordered all women to wear head-to-toe clothing in public 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 jail time.
The Taliban leadership has also barred girls from attending school after the sixth grade, reversing previous promises by Taliban officials that girls of all ages would be allowed an education.
Fawzia Koofi, former deputy speaker of the Afghan parliament, told Al Jazeera that the most recent order “has no justification”.
“Certain individuals within the Taliban just tried to impose their own self-interpreted principles under the name of religion. It has no basis in Islam,” Koofi said.
Koofi said that since the Taliban took power they have issued many decrees eliminating women’s freedoms and liberties.
“I believe the Taliban are [focusing on women’s outfits] to shift the public focus from the main issues the country is suffering from, including the economic crisis that the Taliban have not been able to even issue one decree to tackle that, to growing corruption, to the war,” Koofi said.