Afghan TV presenters hide faces on air

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A Tolo News presenter, Sonia Niazi, covers her face during a live broadcast on Tolo TV station in Kabul on May 22, 2022 after defying a Taliban order to conceal their TV appearance. (AFP photo)

Since taking power last year, the Taliban have imposed a series of restrictions on civil society, many of which have focused on limiting the rights of women and girls to conform to the austere Islam of the band.

Earlier this month, Afghanistan’s Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada issued a dictation for women to cover themselves fully in public, including their faces, ideally with the traditional burqa.

The dreaded Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice has ordered TV presenters to follow suit from Saturday.

But the presenters defied the order and went on air with their faces visible, to comply with the directive on Sunday.

Wearing full hijabs and face-covering veils that left only their eyes in view, female presenters and reporters aired morning newscasts on top channels like TOLOnews, Ariana Television, Shamshad TV and 1TV.

“We resisted and were against wearing a mask,” Sonia Niazi, presenter of TOLOnews, told AFP.

“But TOLOnews was pressured and told that any presenter who appeared on screen without a face covering should be given another job or simply fired,” she said.

“TOLOnews was forced and we were forced to carry it.”

Previously, female presenters were only required to wear a headscarf.

TOLOnews director Khpolwak Sapai said the channel was “forced” to follow the order to its staff.

“We were told ‘You have to do this. You have to do this. There is no other way,'” Sapai told AFP.

“I was called on the phone yesterday and told in strict terms to do this. So it is not by choice but by force that we are doing this.”

“Not against female presenters”

On Sunday, male journalists and TOLOnews employees wore face masks at the station’s offices in Kabul in solidarity with female presenters, an AFP correspondent reported.

Other chain workers continued to work with their faces visible.

Ministry spokesman Mohammad Akif Sadeq Mohajir said authorities appreciated that the media adhered to the dress code.

“We are satisfied with the media channels that have taken on this responsibility well,” he told AFP.

Mohajir also said the authorities were not against female presenters working in the channels.

“We have no intention of removing them from the public arena or ostracizing them or depriving them of their right to work,” he said.

Akhundzada’s decree orders authorities to fire government workers if they fail to follow the dress code.

Men working in government also risk being suspended if their wives or daughters do not comply.

Authorities also said media executives and guardians of rebel presenters would face punishment if the diktat was broken.

During two decades of US-led military intervention in Afghanistan, women and girls have made marginal gains in the deeply patriarchal nation.

Soon after regaining control, the Taliban promised a softer version of the hardline Islamist rule that characterized their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.

Since the takeover, however, women have been banned from traveling alone and teenage girls have been barred from secondary schools.

In the 20 years since the ousting of the Taliban in 2001, many conservative rural women have continued to wear the burqa.

But most Afghan women, including TV presenters, have opted for the Islamic headscarf.

Television channels have already stopped airing dramas and soap operas featuring women by order of the Taliban authorities.

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