Afghanistan's Taliban rulers have ordered that female TV presenters cover their faces on air after a recent decree from the hardline group's leader that all women must wear veils in in public.
The latest order continues the tightening of restrictions on women since the militants seized power last August, including a ban on women leaving home without a male guardian.
"The last date for face covering for TV presenters is May 21," Akif Mahajar, spokesman for the Taliban's Ministry of Vice and Virtue, told Reuters.
The new rule was communicated to media officials who "accepted our advice very happily", he said.
He suggested female presenters could wear medical face masks that are now widely used as a protection against Covid-19.
Several media outlets reported receiving a statement from the ministry that said the order was "final and non-negotiable".
Some female anchors and presenters posted photos on social media that show them on air while wearing face masks. One prominent Tolo presenter, Yalda Ali, posted a video of herself putting on a face mask with a caption: “a woman being erased, on orders from the virtue and vice ministry”.
On one station, Shamshad TV, implementation of the order was mixed: one woman anchor appeared with a face mask on Thursday, while another presenter went on air with her face uncovered.
The Taliban imposed overwhelming restrictions on women during their first spell in power from 1996-2001, requiring them to wear the chador ― a traditional full-body covering that includes a veil with a mesh over the eyes ― and barring them from public life and education.
The group appeared to have softened their stance in the weeks after regaining power, announcing no restrictions as they sought international recognition and financial support for the country. But in recent weeks, they have taken a sharp, hardline turn that confirms the worst fears of women's rights activists.
Earlier this month, the Taliban ordered all women to cover their faces in public and to leave home only when necessary. Male relatives will face punishment for women’s breaches of the dress code, starting with a summons and escalating to court hearings and jail, the order said.
Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada also issued a decree barring 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 reporting from agencies.