KABUL, June 20 Fourth Estate
Editors Note: This article contains accounts and quotes from sources who have been granted anonymity by the editor for safety and security purposes. and in accordance with the Journalism Code of Practice and the Fourth Estate’s NewsCert policy.
Ever since the Taliban takeover on August 15 of 2021, the Afghan media landscape has experienced radical change and enormous pressures. Press freedoms are severely curtained and the public’s unrestrained access to information is now severely constrained in the country.
International media watchdogs have regularly criticized the current Taliban regime for stepping up censorship and violence against media workers, including arbitrary detentions in Kabul and across Afghanistan since taking over Afghanistan last August.
Afghanistan’s female journalists have been hit hardest, and their presence in Afghanistan’s deteriorating media landscape is quickly disappearing.
The latest blow came as the Taliban’s Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice directed female journalists and presenters must cover their faces that starting May 21st,
Speaking to the Fourth Estate, several female journalists, and the head of Afghanistan’s 1TV channel explain that the new law is a new obstacle to the country’s media functioning, as a covered face makes it extremely difficult to communicate.
“Following the new Hijab rule, I arranged an interview with a Taliban spokesman for the Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. I wanted to ask why the male relatives of women who violate the new rule of Hijab should be punished instead of herself. The official said he was ready to be interviewed only if I cover my face,” said a Kabul-based female TV journalist.
Speaking anonymously for security and safety reasons, the journalist explained she was forced to wear a mask and that the official did not look at her during the entire interview.
“When I complained that covering the complete face except eyes is not part of a Hijab, the official said that this is a new regulation and that all female journalists and TV presenters must comply with it,” she said.
“This was when I really experienced discrimination because I was a female. I was forced to cover my face. If I were a male professional, nothing would have happened,” she explained.
She went on to say that it is quite difficult to report or read news bulletins while covering the face; “we are human. We need to breathe.” she explained.
“There is not a single verse in the Holy Quran indicating that women should cover their faces except their eyes,” another female journalist told Fourth Estate.
“I asked to[sic] one Taliban official at the Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice that such command is not in the Quran, but he said that it is indeed in the Quran and that all women must comply with it,” the journalist said in anonymity.
She said that the pressure on female media workers is an “indirect effort” by the Taliban to “erase them from the media” and “no Afghan girl should dare to work” in the media in the future.
“We will not step back from our efforts and we will try to continue our journalistic activities in our capacity,” another female reporter for a Kabul TV channel, told Fourth Estate.
“My family says that I should quit the job, but I say no. I must carry on. Yet I don’t know what will happen at the end of the day,” the journalist explained.
She points out that she did not leave Afghanistan, as she is still hopeful for a better future.
Journalists across Afghanistan have called on the international community and media watchdogs worldwide to not just issue supportive statements but to help Afghan journalists in more meaningful ways.
“We walk around the city of Kabul, and see that other women are wearing Hijab (veils), but not masks. I think masks are compulsory only for Afghan female journalists and News presenters or anchorpersons,” another female Afghan journalist working told the Fourth Estate.
The journalist, a citizen of Kabul, explains she wants the Taliban to treat all Afghans equally, fairly, and without discrimination. “Media is a bridge between the public and the government. Media is also the ears and eyes of a nation. Therefore, if the Taliban want to see a developed society, they need to support the media,” she said.
“There is no need for wearing a mask, and according to Islamic teachings, women have to cover their face, not mouth and noise,” she added.
There was no such practice even during the time of our Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), the journalist pointed out, referring to the compulsory mask-wearing by female Afghan journalists.
The journalist also criticized the way the international media watchdogs see and monitor the situation of journalists in Afghanistan. “The media advocacy group sent their findings back to the Taliban. What does it mean? These reports and information were secret and were not supposed to leak or be shared,” explained the journalist, the only female working at the news outlet.
The journalist also called on the international community not to play with the fate of Afghans, and they should come to the fore to help Afghans sincerely and “with an open heart”.
“Undoubtedly, Afghan media outlets are struggling with new challenges, as they face enormous restrictions for the past several months,” Idress Farooqi, head of the local 1TV Channel, told Fourth Estate.
Mr. Farooqi said that the requirement of covering female journalists’ faces is one of the key challenges encountered by the media and said it is difficult for them to carry political debates on TV for hours in such conditions.
Mr. Farooqi also spoke about economic challenges, pointing out that since August 15, a large number of Afghan media outlets have been forced to shut down due to a lack of revenue and donors.