Most female news anchors in Afghanistan on Sunday appeared on television with face coverings as the country's Taliban rulers began to enforce their directive to news organisations mandating female anchors to cover their faces on-air.
Only a handful of news organisations complied with the Taliban's directives issued on Thursday, but most anchors complied on Sunday after Taliban's vice and virtue ministry began enforcing the order, which had earlier 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.
A local media official confirmed to AP his station had received the order last week but he was forced to implement it on Sunday and he was told it was not up for discussion. He spoke on condition he and his station remain anonymous for fear of retribution from Taliban authorities.
At Tolo News, male colleagues also covered their face in an apparent act of solidarity with the organisation's female staffers who are forced to wear coverings under the Taliban directive.
"One of the gains of the past twenty years was Afghanistan's vibrant and free press. Today, this is what the Taliban say freedom looks like. Female television presenter forced to cover their faces," said Yalda Hakim, an Afghanistan-born BBC journalist, in a tweet, sharing photographs of female Afghan anchors in face coverings.
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.
After the militant group seized power again in August last year, it initially appeared to have moderated their restrictions, announcing no dress code for women. However, the Taliban has taken a sharp, hardline turn in recent weeks that has confirmed the worst fears of rights activists and has 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 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.
(With AP inputs)