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Three British Sikhs who pulled off a Passport Scam in 2014 plead guilty in Court

British Sikhs accept involvement in Passport Scam helping Afghans to enter UK illegally

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Sikh Community, Wikimedia

London, Mar 17, 2017: Three Sikhs in British have admitted involvement in a passport scam under which they misused the passports of their family members to help Afghan asylum seekers in entering the UK wearing turbans to hide their identity in 2014.

Harmit Kapoor, Daljit kapoor and Davinder chawla, all three cousins in their 40s, pleaded guilty before the commencement of their trial at Inner London Crown Court on Tuesday, as stated in a PTI report.

They accepted two conspiracy charges in helping Afghan asylum seekers in entering the UK illegally between May and June 2014 and will be sentenced later this month.

“ We say these three are the facilitators in this organised crime, where they are using genuine British passport holders within the Sikh community. It’s a Sikh conspiracy and it’s occurring because it’s very difficult for the authorities at the border control to distinguish who’s who on the passports’” prosecutor Edward Aydin said.

The border staff failed to spot the difference in the passports shown by the Afghans, all of which had photos of Sikhs wearing their turbans.

Paying around 12,000 pounds per family to the fraudsters, around 30 Afghans are known to have successfully claimed asylum.

The Afghan families were handed genuine passports by a gang member in Paris, enabling them to get through airport security. The gang retrieved the passports once the Afghans entered the country and later reused them with new families.

Harmit Kapoor also admitted booking flights between June 8 and June 21, 2014, for the asylum seekers, while Chawla admitted hiring a vehicle to facilitate their entry into Britain when he drove to Paris.

In February 2011, Chawla had been jailed for a similar crime accompanied by four other men.

The French Authorities were alerted by Airline Staff who suspected something was wrong, leading to the immigration racket being busted.

Joginder Dawan, a 41 year old fourth suspect, pleaded not guilty to one conspiracy while pleading guilty to the charge of contributing in the offence by permitting the use of his passport for flight and travel booking. In both cases, not guilty verdicts were recorded in his favour and he was discharged.

-Prepared by Nikita Saraf, Twitter: @niki_saraf

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Afghans Fear End of Press Freedom

Afghanistan is the world's deadliest place for journalists

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Afghans, Press Freedom
While in power, the Taliban raged against traditional forms of mass communication. VOA

Beneath the gaze of the TV cameras a woman begins speaking, at first softly but with growing passion as she faces the “Butcher of Kabul” across a crowded auditorium and asks if he wants to apologise for alleged war crimes.

Without missing a beat, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the ruthless former warlord blamed for rocket attacks which reduced much of the Afghan capital to rubble in the 1990s, declined to do so.

The dramatic moment during a recent televised news debate highlights how far media freedom has come in Afghanistan, where — for now — traumatised civilians can stand and at least try to hold powerful men to account, live on camera.

“Years ago, these kind of questions could get you killed, but now people can challenge the most dangerous people in mainstream and social media,” Mustafa Rahimi, a university student, said after watching the debate.

Afghans, Press Freedom
The dramatic moment during a recent televised news debate highlights how far media freedom has come in Afghanistan. VOA

But today, even as hundreds of media outlets proliferate across Afghanistan, consumers and journalists alike worry a potential peace deal between the Taliban and the US could sound the death knell for a golden age of press freedom.

“We are concerned about a total or a partial ban on media,” Sediqullah Khaliq, the director of Hewad TV and radio in Kandahar — the birthplace of Taliban — told AFP.

“There is fear that we may go back to a media blackout or having a state-controlled press.”

While in power, the Taliban raged against traditional forms of mass communication and entertainment, banning television, movies and allowing only Islamist programming or propaganda to be broadcast on the only radio station, Voice of Sharia.

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Anyone caught watching TV faced punishmentand risked having their television set smashed and then displayed from a lamppost.

Almost all electronic products were outlawed as un-Islamic. For a while, trees in Kabul fluttered with the magnetic ribbon tape from destroyed cassettes.
Photographs of living things were illegal, and ownership of a video player could lead to a public lashing.

Afghanistan is the world’s deadliest place for journalists, who face many risks covering the conflict and who have sometimes been targeted for doing their job.

Afghans, Press Freedom
Consumers and journalists alike worry a potential peace deal between the Taliban and the US could sound the death knell for a golden age of press freedom. VOA

Nine journalists, including AFP Kabul’s chief photographer Shah Marai, were killed in an Islamic State attack in April 2018.

Media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported that 2018 was the deadliest year on record for journalists in Afghanistan, with at least 15 media workers killed while working.

Despite the risks, hundreds of media organizations have blossomed since 2001, and today there are more than 100 television channels, 284 radio stations and just over 400 newspapers and magazines, according to a government report.

With one of the world’s lowest literacy rates, television and radio play a huge role in Afghan culture, and Afghans have grown accustomed to outlets holding their politicians to account.

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Warlords, politicians, Taliban sympathisers and government officials are openly challenged in televised debates, radio programmes and on social media.

“We now play live music, women call in and share their problems on the radio. But even if the Taliban allow radios, I don’t think they would like our programs,” said Mera Hamdam, a presenter at Zama private radio in Kandahar. “There is huge concern that we will lose all our achievements,” he said.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said if they return to power, the insurgents would follow an Islamic interpretation of freedom of expression.

“We won’t allow propaganda, insults and humiliation to people in society and religious values. We will allow those who work for the betterment of the society,” he told AFP.

Afghans, Press Freedom
FILE – An Afghan shopkeeper, right, listens to Islamic State radio at his shop in Jalalabad. VOA

A sixth round of talks between the US and the Taliban wrapped up last week in Doha, with apparently little progress being made on several key issues.

The two foes have for months been trying to hammer out a deal that could see foreign forces leave Afghanistan in return for a ceasefire, talks between Kabul and the Taliban, and a guarantee the country will not be used as a safe haven for terror groups.

But observers worry that in a rush to quit Afghanistan after nearly 18 gruelling years of war, America might not push for safeguards of protections many Afghans now take for granted, including media freedoms and improved rights for women and other marginalised people.

“Freedom of expression as a protective value should be incorporated into any document resulting from peace talks,” NAI, a leading media support agency, said in a statement.

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Rahimi, the university student, said he worried about Afghanistan going back to “the dark era”. (VOA)