KABUL: Female presenters on Afghanistan's leading television channels went on air on Saturday without covering their faces, defying a Taliban order that they conceal their appearance to comply with the group's austere brand of Islam.
Since surging back to power last August, the Taliban have imposed a slew of restrictions on civil society, many focused on reining in the rights of women and girls.
Earlier this month, Afghanistan's supreme leader issued a diktat for women to cover up fully in public, including their faces, ideally with the traditional burqa.
The feared Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice ordered female TV presenters to follow suit by Saturday.
Previously, they had only been required to wear a headscarf.
However, broadcasters TOLOnews, Shamshad TV and 1TV all aired live programs on Saturday with female presenters' faces on show.
"Our female colleagues are concerned that if they cover their faces, the next thing they would be told is to stop working," Shamshad TV head of news Abid Ehsas told Agence France-Presse (AFP). "This is the reason they have not observed the order so far."
Ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadeq Akif Mohajir said the women were violating the Taliban directive.
"If they don't comply, we will talk to the managers and guardians of the presenters," he told AFP. "Anyone who lives under a particular system and government has to obey the laws and orders of that system, so they must implement the order."
The Taliban have demanded that female government employees be fired if they fail to follow the new dress code.
Men working in government also risk suspension if their wives or daughters fail to comply.
Mohajir said media managers and the male guardians of the defiant presenters would also be liable for penalties if the order was not observed.
The Taliban previously promised a softer version of the harsh Islamist rule that characterized their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.
During two decades of United States-led military intervention in Afghanistan, women and girls made marginal gains in the deeply patriarchal nation.
But since August, women have been banned from traveling alone and teenage girls barred from secondary schools.
In the 20 years after the Taliban were ousted from office, many women in the conservative countryside continued to wear a burqa.
However, most Afghan women, including TV presenters, opted for the Islamic headscarf.
Television channels have already stopped showing dramas and soap operas featuring women, following orders from Taliban authorities.