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UN Expresses 'Deep Concern' Over Taliban's Latest Moves To Further Restrict Girls, Women, And Media

Afghan women and girls protest outside the Education Ministry in Kabul on March 26 to demand that high schools be reopened for girls.

The United Nations Security Council has expressed deep concern after the Taliban-led government ordered girls be denied access to high school education amid reports of further restrictions on women and media, including a fresh ban on news bulletins by the BBC and Voice of America (VOA).

"The members of the Security Council...reaffirmed the right to education for all Afghans, including girls," a statement on March 27 from the United Nations said.

On March 23, Taliban officials extended a nationwide ban on girls' education beyond sixth grade that was imposed after Taliban militants took over most of the country as U.S.-led international troops withdrew and the UN-backed government in Kabul fled.

The United States abruptly canceled meetings with the Taliban in Doha that were set to address key economic issues because of the decision, U.S. officials said on March 25.

The Security Council asked Deborah Lyons, the UN Special Representative for Afghanistan, to engage with relevant Afghan authorities and stakeholders on the issue and report back on progress.

UN and other international observers have repeatedly warned of abuses under the seven-month-old regime of girls and women, including draconian limits on their movement, freedom to work or travel, or ability to carry out even the simplest daily aspects of public life.

AFP reports the Taliban has ordered airlines in Afghanistan to stop women from boarding flights unless accompanied by a male relative.

Two officials from Afghanistan's Ariana Afghan airline and Kam Air said late on March 27 that the Taliban had ordered them to stop allowing women to board if they were traveling alone.

The decision was taken after a meeting on March 24 between representatives of the Taliban, the two airlines, and airport immigration authorities, the officials told AFP, asking not to be named.

A part of the Taliban-led government in Afghanistan tasked with enforcing adherence to strict Islamic fundamentalism said it had not issued any directive banning women from taking flights alone.

But a letter issued by a senior official of Ariana Afghan to the airline's staff after the meeting with the Taliban, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, confirmed the new measure.

"No women are allowed to fly on any domestic or international flights without a male relative," the letter said.

On March 27, the Taliban's Ministry For the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice ordered that all Kabul venues with rides and games should be opened to women and girls from Sundays through Tuesdays and to boys and men on Wednesdays through Saturdays. There is no exception for families on the ministry's timetable.

"The Taliban regime is now officially a gender apartheid authoritarian police state," Tamim Asey, executive chairman of The Institute of War and Peace Studies and the Council on Foreign Relations of Afghanistan, said after the parks ban was announced, adding, "The regime while a de facto reality...merits no recognition and legitimacy."

Meanwhile, BBC Pashtu reported on March 27 that the broadcaster's news bulletins in the Pashto, Persian, and Uzbek languages had been taken off the air in Afghanistan.

"The BBC's TV news bulletins in Pashto, Persian and Uzbek have been taken off air in Afghanistan, after the Taliban ordered our TV partners to remove international broadcasters from their airwaves," Tarik Kafala, head of languages at the BBC World Service, said in a statement.

"We call on the Taliban to reverse their decision and allow our TV partners to return the BBC's news bulletins to their airwaves immediately."

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The UN National Assistance Mission in Afghanistan described the action against international media as "another chilling development."

"Taliban instruct Afghan media to suspend any further transmission of international media broadcasts. Another repressive step against the people of Afghanistan," the UN mission tweeted.

Meanwhile, a source at Afghan media giant MOBY Group told the German dpa news agency that it had stopped broadcasting VOA material as of March 27, following orders by the Taliban's intelligence agency.

Earlier, Information and Culture Ministry spokesman Abdul Haq Hammad confirmed to dpa that VOA’s television broadcasts on Afghan channels had been stopped. However, the U.S.-funded broadcaster’s radio station remained operational in Afghanistan and no decision had been taken to block it.

With reporting by AFP and dpa
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