Seconds before its broadcast, Afghan broadcaster Nizar Nabil wears a black mask, in a symbolic gesture to protest the Taliban’s decision to force female announcers to cover their faces in television.
“We are taking a stand to support our female colleagues,” Nizar Nabil who works for TOLOnews, Afghanistan’s main private news channel, told AFP.
“During our live newscasts or our political bulletins, we wear masks as a form of protest,” he added, after presenting a persuasive newscast.
Since their return to power last year, the Taliban have imposed a series of restrictions on civil society, many of them aimed at subjugating women to their fundamentalist conception of Islam.
Earlier this month, the Taliban’s supreme leader Hebatullah Akhundzada issued an order requiring women to cover themselves completely in public, including the face, ideally with a burqa, a full-face covering with a mesh of cloth at eye level.
Previously, a hair cap was enough.
Afghanistan’s Ministry of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has ordered female television presenters to comply by Saturday.
– ‘Pressure on the media’ –
Female journalists initially chose not to comply with this order, appearing live without hiding their faces.
Before the turn around: Sunday presenters wore a full niqab, leaving only their eyes and foreheads visible, to show newspapers on TOLOnews, Ariana TV, Shemshad TV and 1TV channels.
In solidarity with their sisters and in protest of Taliban orders, TOLOnews and 1TV presenters decided to go live wearing black masks.
Thus, they sometimes offer joint programs with fellow women.
“The Taliban want to pressure the media with these restrictions (…). They want the media to operate according to their plans,” said Nizar Nabil, who was wearing a tie and a jacket and jeans.
In the offices of 1TV, another major private channel, male announcers and staff members wear masks, while women wear a full-face veil, only showing their eyes and foreheads.
“We agree with our broadcasters who agree to wear the Islamic headscarf but do not want to wear a mask because it is difficult to hold a three- or four-hour program like that,” the editor told AFP.
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“We hope that (the Taliban) will reverse its decision and remove these restrictions,” he added.
Behind him is a journalist presenting a news bulletin. During her breaks, she wipes the drips of sweat all over her face.
Taliban officials do not appear to be moving toward repealing the decree.
“If forcing applicants to wear a tie is accepted, then why is forcing to wear a headscarf wrong,” Deputy Government Spokesperson Enamullah Semanghani said on Twitter this week.
He added, “If the necktie can be part of the uniform (on TV), why not the headscarf as well?”
According to 1TV anchor, Mohib Al-Yousifi, it is only a matter of time before the authorities impose restrictions on men’s dress.
“Many male broadcasters now fear that there will also be restrictions on the way they dress,” worries the journalist, who wears a black suit and mask.
On state television, where no woman presents the paper, male broadcasters now wear shalwar kameez – a traditional Afghan tunic – and turban.