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Taliban Religious Police Issue Posters Ordering Women to Cover Up

FILE - Burqa-clad women are pictured at a market in Kabul, Afghanistan, Dec. 20, 2021.
FILE - Burqa-clad women are pictured at a market in Kabul, Afghanistan, Dec. 20, 2021.

The Taliban's religious police have put up posters around the Afghan capital, Kabul, ordering women to cover up, an official said Friday, the latest in a string of creeping restrictions.

The poster, which includes an image of the face-covering burqa, was placed on cafes and shops this week by the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

Since returning to power in August, the Taliban have increasingly curtailed freedoms, particularly those of women and girls.

"According to Sharia law, Muslim women must wear the hijab," the poster reads, referring to the practice of covering up.

A spokesman for the ministry, responsible for enforcing the Taliban's harsh interpretation of Islamic law, confirmed to AFP on Friday that it was behind the orders.

"If someone does not follow it, it does not mean she will be punished or beaten, it's just encouragement for Muslim women to follow Sharia law," Sadeq Akif Muhajir said.

Trying 'to spread fear'

In Kabul, women already cover their hair with headscarves, though some wear modest Western clothing.

Outside the capital, the burqa, which became mandatory for women under the Taliban's first regime in the 1990s, has remained common.

"What they're trying to do is to spread fear among the people," a university student and women's rights advocate, who did not want to be identified, told AFP.

"The first time I saw the posters I was really petrified. I thought maybe [the Taliban] will start beating me. They want me to wear a burqa and look like nothing, I would never do that," the student said.

The Taliban, who are eager for international recognition to allow funding to again flow to the war-wracked country, have so far refrained from issuing national policies.

Instead, they have published guidance for men and women that has varied from province to province.

"This is not good — 100 percent, this will create fear," said Shahagha Noori, the supervisor of a Kabul restaurant where the poster had been put up by the Taliban. "I think if the Taliban get international recognition, then they will start to enforce it."

Although the Taliban have promised a lighter version of the hardline rule that characterized their first time in power from 1996 to 2001, women are largely excluded from government employment, and secondary schools for girls have remained shuttered in several provinces.

Women have also been banned from traveling alone on long journeys.

No nation has yet formally recognized the Taliban government, and diplomats face the delicate task of channeling aid to the stricken Afghan economy without propping up the hardline Islamists.