Posts Tagged ‘“Human rights”’


A further 15 men face imminent execution in Saudi Arabia

Only a few days ago, we highlighted the case of fourteen men who face imminent execution.  Today we publish a further urgent action as Saudi is about to execute another 15 individuals.  The families of the accused have just discovered that the higher court has upheld the lower court’s ruling without the prisoners themselves or their lawyers knowing about it.

They were accused of high treason together with other unrecognisable offences including ‘supporting protests’ and ‘spreading the Shi’a faith.’  They were held incommunicado for nearly three months and denied access to lawyers.  Their families were threatened with arrest if they did not sign confessions.

The system in Saudi is contrary to all international norms and shows no sign of improvement.  Yet despite this we continue to supply the country with arms on a huge scale.

The Foreign and Colonial Office has just published its 2o16 report on human rights and on Saudi it says the following (extract)

… We also remain deeply concerned about the application of the death penalty.  Amnesty International reported that 153 people had been executed in 2016, compared to 158 people in 2015.  This included the simultaneous execution of 47 people on 2 January 2016.  On 5 January, the then FCO Minister for the Middle East and Africa, Tobias Ellwood, made a statement to Parliament reiterating our clear position on the death penalty.  As the principle of the death penalty is enshrined in Saudi Arabia’s Sharia law, total abolition in the near future is unlikely.  We continued to ensure that the Saudi authorities are aware of our strong opposition to the death penalty at the most senior levels.

… In 2017, we will continue to work to limit the application of the death penalty; and to ensure that, if it is applied, it is carried out in line with international minimum standards.  We will continue to monitor closely cases which relate to freedom of expression and of religion or belief.  We will also look for opportunities to promote greater participation by civil society and by women in Saudi public life.  (p 49)

Fine words but somewhat undermined by continuing high level contact, visits by members of the Royal Family and government ministers keen to promote the continued sale of weapons.

If you do get time to write that would be appreciated.  Alternatively, if you go to our Twitter page on this and click ‘like’ or ‘retweet’ that would help.

Urgent Action (pdf)


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Fourteen men are a risk of execution in Saudi Arabia

The families of the men discovered that these men are at risk of execution a few days ago as a result of the secretive nature of the Saudi justice system.  Due to the lack of information surrounding the judicial process in Saudi Arabia, it is only when the families of some of the men finally managed to get through to the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), on 23 July by phone, that they learned the sentences of their relatives had been upheld.  This means that the 14 men could be executed as soon as the King ratifies the sentences.  The ratification process is secretive and could happen at any time.  On 15 July, the 14 men were transferred to the capital Riyadh without prior notice.

As is quite common in that country, torture may have been used to extract confessions.

Full details are below and we hope readers will find time to write or email to the Saudi authorities.

In previous posts we have drawn attention to the British government’s role in supporting this regime despite its horrific human rights record and its activities in bombing and blockading the Yemen.

Urgent Action: Saudi

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Sport being used to whitewash unsavoury regimes

When we turn to our sports pages, we expect to read about who is beating Britain at cricket, the latest in the long-running saga of the English football team or Andy Murray’s latest exploits on the tennis courts.  We do not expect to read about human rights or to see quotes from organisations like Human Rights Watch or this one – Amnesty.  They are to be found on the news pages surely.

But on Tuesday 18 July, the Guardian in the UK devoted nearly two whole pages in its sports section to the sponsorship by Bahrain of a range of sporting activities and sportsmen in an effort to create a more favourable image for itself.

And it needs to.  The country has a quite appalling record of human rights abuses.  These include torture, in particular beatings and the use of electric shocks.  Freedom of assembly has been severely restricted and peaceful protests have been violently put down.  Nabeel Rajaab – a human rights defender is in prison.

Alan Hogarth, head of policy and government affairs for Amnesty said:

It seems pretty clear that the Bahraini authorities have stepped up efforts to associate the country with major sporting events as glitzy cover for an ever-worsening human rights crackdown.  For the most part, Bahrain’s harnessing of the glamour and prestige of sport has helped deflect attention from the arrests of peaceful critics, reports of tortured detainees, unfair trials and death sentences.

But you would not know this from the sports pages where all is glamour and excitement.  Pictured is the Olympic gold winner

Alistair Brownlee. Pic nztri.co.nz

Alistair Brownlee – featured in the Guardian article – promoting a Bahrain sponsored event.  Other sports include F1 motor racing, football with FIFA siting its conference in the country and cycling.  Spokesmen for the various organisations involved in laundering Bahrain’s image claim that they are not competent authorities to assess the human rights violations taking place there.  There are also claims that the sporting activities will help overcome the problems.  This might have a grain of truth if during coverage, human rights issued were raised by commentators.  Of that there has been no sign.

Bahrain cycling team colours. Photo; Bettini

Their promotional activities are not limited to sport as members of the UK’s Royal family have been pressed into service.  Her majesty the Queen herself welcomed King Hamad to the Royal Windsor horse show and there are pictures of Prince Charles and Prince Andrew with various members of the Bahraini royal family.

We do not have to look far for reasons for this rolling out of the red carpet for members of this royal family as it is our old friend arms sales which are behind it.  It led Theresa May to visit the country last year.  As CAAT reports we are keen to foster arms sales there including Typhoon jets and we have established a naval base at Mina Salman.  Defence clearly trumps human rights considerations.

At present, the sportsmen and women can collect their fees and promotional monies free in the knowledge that the majority of those reading of their sporting achievements probably do not concern themselves too much with goes on in the countries like Bahrain and how they treat their own citizens.  And only rarely do the stories touch on these matters since sport seems to exist in a kind of box as far the rest of coverage is concerned.  Sport, money and politics are now closely entwined.  Sports stars enjoy huge acclaim and some have a large fan base.  They have huge influence over the young who spend large sums on their merchandise.  This is a big responsibility.

But is it too much to ask that sporting people should have a conscience and should be concerned that their names and images are being used to hide serious abuses taking place?  Where a regime such as Bahrain is using sport to whitewash its reputation then sporting people should be aware of the role they are playing and the harm they are doing.  Should they not be concerned that they are being used by these regimes?


An Amnesty post on this topic

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Nobel Peace Prize laureate hastily buried at sea

Liu Xiaobo. Picture: thefamouspeople.com

On Thursday, the Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo died of liver cancer.  He had been in prison since 2008 mainly because he argued for greater democracy in China and was convicted of ‘inciting subversion’.  He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 which infuriated the Chinese government and he was not permitted to go to Norway to receive it.  He was only the second laureate to have been in prison at the time of the award.  Once the cancer was diagnosed he was released to a hospital where he was still under heavy guard.  According to Human Rights Watch, even as his illness worsened the Chinese government continued to isolate him and denied him freely choosing his medical treatment.

On Saturday he was hastily cremated and his ashes scattered at sea almost certainly to prevent a grave on land becoming a centre for protest.  Activists were reported by the South China Morning Post to be ‘outraged at the humiliating arrangements’.  His second wife, Liu Xia, is under house arrest.

Liu was a supporter of Charter 08 which argued for a fundamental change in the one party state, a whole series of reforms that would result in a separation of powers, a new constitution and legislative democracy.  It was suppressed by the Chinese government.

A spokesman for Amnesty International said:

This is a sad day for human rights, but Liu Xiaobo leaves behind a powerful legacy to inspire others to continue the struggle for human rights in China and around the world

Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, made the following lukewarm statement:

I am deeply saddened to hear that Liu Xiaobo has passed away. He was a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and a lifelong campaigner for democracy, human rights and peace. His death is a huge loss and our hearts go out to his wife Liu Xia, his family, and his many friends and supporters.
Liu Xiaobo should have been allowed to choose his own medical treatment overseas, which the Chinese authorities repeatedly denied him. This was wrong and I now urge them to lift all restrictions on his widow, Liu Xia.  13 July 2017

This from a man not afraid to be outspoken at any given moment.  Focusing on the restricted nature of his medical treatment is the least of the crimes the Chinese government has committed.  ‘Has passed away’ gives the impression of a natural death not one hastened by harsh prison conditions, poor medical treatment and confining him right to the last.  This is but the latest example of our government failing to stand up to breaches of human rights internationally.  This is only set to get worse as the need to augment reduced European markets in the post Brexit world.

Under China’s president, Xi Jinping, there has been a major crackdown on any form of dissent.  Restrictions on press freedom are well known and access to the internet is tightly restricted.  Booksellers in Hong Kong stocking books detailing the corruption of the Politburo elite have been abducted.  Details of this corruption among what are called the ‘Princelings’ has been revealed in the Panama Papers*.  President Xi’s brother in law is implicated, along with other senior party people, in squirreling away billions in tax havens using the services of the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

Any discussion of democracy is taboo in China as it is contrary to one of the Four Cardinal Principles one of which is to ‘uphold the people’s democratic dictatorship.’  One can see straight away that ideas of freedom of the press and ideas of running the country on more democratic lines are not going to get far with the government.

The future

China has pursued a policy of economic growth which so far has been successful and has led to the country being second only to the USA.  It is expanding militarily most notably in creating false islands in the South China Sea.  It is present all around the world where natural resources are to be found.  The trick has been to maintain economic growth in return for maintaining its hold on political power.  How long this growth can be maintained is open to question.

On the other hand, China wants to be more of key player in the world and is to be seen at G7 and G20 meetings as well as having a seat on the UN Security Council.  As it grows in economic and military power, it seeks political recognition as well.  This is difficult to achieve if at home it denies basic freedoms and human rights to its citizens; executes more than all the other countries in the world put together; locks up its dissidents; denies access to the internet and treats the people of Tibet appallingly.  Using its power it is able to suppress criticism – cancelling contracts with Norway for example after Liu was awarded the Nobel prize – and tells other countries not to interfere in its internal affairs.

Fundamentally Chinese social policy is not progressing indeed, under Xi Jinping, it has regressed.  So long as they can maintain their tight grip on power and the levers of power, the CPC will continue.  But the lesson of history is that when a crack appears, as with a sheet of ice, it spreads rapidly and unpredictably.


*The Panama Papers, 2017, Bastian Obermayer and Frederik Obermaier, Oneworld, London (3rd edition).  Details tax evasion by criminals, dictators and politicians – not just the Chinese – as revealed by a release of papers from Mossack Fonseca

Sources: Human Rights Watch; New York times; The Guardian; Amnesty International; South China Morning Post

 

 

 

 


Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo has liver cancer

Liu Xiaobo who has liver cancer and was serving 11 years for ‘inciting subversion of state power’ which means any activity which seeks to undermine communist power.  Liu was seeking reforms in China and improved democracy.  He is now out of prison but essentially under arrest.  Since his diagnosis, the Chinese did not want a Nobel Lauriat dying in prison, so released him to a hospital where he is expected to die.  It is alleged the poor state of medical attention in prisons in China meant he did not get treatment earlier enough and this may have hastened his end.

China is accused of many failings to do with human rights.  Activists and lawyers are targeted and frequently arrested.  There has been a crackdown on lawyers.  People with religious convictions are persecuted.  The internet is heavily restricted and press freedom is also extremely limited.  The country is a heavy user of the death penalty and executes more of its citizens than all the rest of the world put together.  The precise number not known since it is a state secret.

The country is extremely sensitive to outside criticism and were furious when Liu was awarded the Peace Prize.  Trade with Norway was curtailed which probably did not concern them too much since they are a wealthy country.  The Beijing government summoned the Norwegian ambassador in protest.  It called Mr Liu a “criminal”, saying the award violated Nobel principles and could damage relations with Norway.  The Norwegian Nobel committee said Mr Liu was “the foremost symbol” of the struggle for human rights in China.  It took six years before relations were normalised between the two countries according to the New York Times.

In some respects China is a powder keg.  As long as prosperity increases then many people are happy to go about their lives and not bother too much about issues of freedom and human rights.  They will not have access to sites or information which discuss or promote such issues (such as Amnesty International) and so the ruling communists need not worry too much about a restive population.  Step by step they are securing hegemony over Hong Kong.  Some ‘below the line’ comments in the press stories suggest that the Confucian tradition also plays a part and that, unlike Western nations, this tradition of loyalty to the state is more a feature of political life.

Another factor is that it is said by some observers that the Chinese rather resent being subjected to Western moral codes, in which they had no part in formulating, being applied to them.  This does have some force except that they were a member of the Security Council when the Universal Declaration was signed in 1948.  It does overlook the fact that the Declaration caused the Western nations some discomfort as well: the British and French with their treatment of the colonial peoples and the USA with its treatment of black people.

If China wishes to become a leading world nation then it is going to have to accept the norms the rest of the world tries to live by.  The treatment of Liu Xiaobo (and many, many others) has been disgraceful.

And what of our Foreign and Colonial Office?  It says:

Minister for Asia and the Pacific Mark Field said:

I am pleased that the 24th Round of the UK-China Human Rights Dialogue has taken place. Senior officials discussed the full range of our human rights concerns, including freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, access to justice and ethnic minorities’ rights. They also discussed areas where the UK and China could collaborate more closely, including modern slavery and women’s rights.

The UK strongly believes that respect for human rights is vital for growth and stability, and that these regular talks are an important part of our relationship with China. The dialogue has, once again, been held in a constructive and open manner. I am grateful for the valuable contribution made by civil society organisations before and during this exchange. [accessed 29 June]

Post Brexit the emphasis is going to be on trade and the UK government is unlikely to raise difficult issues with the Chines government or risk being treated like Norway.

Sources: Amnesty International, New York Times, BBC, Guardian.


Follow us on Twitter and Facebook, salisburyai.  If you live in the Salisbury area and are interested in promoting human rights please get in touch.  The best thing is to come along to one of our events and make yourself known.


The chair of Amnesty in Turkey has been arrested

Taner Kuliç who is the chair of Amnesty International in Turkey, has been detained by the Turkish authorities having been wrongly accused of being a member of a terrorist group.  This is further evidence of just how shockingly widespread the arbitrary nature of post crackdown Turkey has become.

The crackdown since the failed government coup on 15 July 2016 has been astonishingly widespread. The numbers reported by CNN as of April 2017 are as follows:

  • Detentions: 113,260

  • Arrests: 47,115

  • Journalists dismissed: 2,708

  • Media outlets shut down: 179

We expect these numbers to have risen even higher since.

Please follow the link and send a message to the Turkish government.  Thank you.


If you live in the Salisbury area we would welcome new members to our group.  The simplest thing is to come to one of our events and details of what we are doing can be found at the end of our minutes or by keeping an eye on Twitter.  You can also enter ‘Salisbury amnesty’ into a search engine.


Death penalty report for March – April 2017

This is the death penalty update report for mid March to mid April thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it.  Some good news – even in China – where the statistics on the use of the penalty are a state secret, tempered by heavy use in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Iran.

Report (Word)



Group minutes for the March meeting are now available thanks to group member Lesley for compiling them.  We covered a lot of ground and there are a number of events including a talk by Jihyun Park this Thursday at the Five Rivers Leisure Centre, Hulse Road, Salisbury at 7:30.

March minutes (pdf)


Letter in the Observer (19 February) from a group of lawyers stressing the importance of ECHR

Theresa May has repeatedly stated her feelings that Britain would be better served by leaving the European convention on human rights than it would leaving the European Union.  As we enter Brexit negotiations, there is now every possibility that both these scenarios could easily come to pass.  The ECHR has been the bedrock of peace in Europe since the Second World War and was instrumental in the remarkable growth of democracy in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  It is no coincidence that the one state that is not part of the convention, Belarus, is known as “Europe’s last dictatorship”.  The withdrawal of Britain from the EU and the ECHR in succession could embolden populist leaders in countries such as Hungary and Poland to abandon domestic and international commitments to human rights.

We face the threat of a human rights crisis with the UK trading away protections against torture for grubby trade deals with foreign tyrants.  We are calling for the EU to make Britain’s membership of the ECHR a legally binding requirement for any future free trade deal with the UK.  The rule of law and human rights are non-negotiable when new countries join the EU; they should be non-negotiable when countries leave and desire a free trade deal.

As parliament scrutinises the bill on withdrawing from the EU and further legislation on Brexit, MPs, peers and the EU itself must make sure that Britain’s membership of the ECHR is a requirement of any future trade deal with the EU.

Signed Sashy Nathan, Baroness Kennedy QC, Lord Lester QC, Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC, Alex Bailin QC, Alex Grigg, Ali Naseem Bajwa QC, Alistair Polson, Amos Waldman, Anya Lewis, Ben Cooper

Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, Celia Graves, David Jones, Dr Leslie Thomas QC, Grainne Mellon, Top of Form

Greg Ó Ceallaigh, Harriet Johnson, Helen Foot, James Wood, Jelia Sane, John Halford

Jules Carey, Keir Monteith, Louise Hooper, Malcolm Hawkes, Mark Stephens CBE, Navita Atreya, Nerida Harford-Bell, Paramjit Ahluwalia, Patrick O’Connor QC, Phil Haywood

Prof. Fergal Davis, Prof. Francesca Klug OBE, Professor Steve Peers, Ravi Naik, Sadat Sayeed, Sally Ireland, Sarah Forster, Sean Horstead, Sir Paul Jenkins KCB QC, Stephen Lue

We should add that our MP Mr John Glen, is in favour of this policy.


The prospects for human rights in 2017 look grim

Their are many reasons to be pessimistic about human rights in the year ahead.  The election of Theresa May and Donald Trump are both bad omens and the rise in importance of China and Russia is also a bad sign.  On almost every front, the post-war ideal of steady improvement in both democracy and human rights around the world now seems under assault.  In the UK, the majority of the media keep up a relentless attack on human rights painting them as a threat to justice and social order.  It is hard to believe that we are now debating the merits or otherwise of torture following President Trump’s remarks this week.  How have we come to this?

Post war

Graphic: Linkedin

Perhaps the most important factor, and one difficult to discern, is the recent decline in optimism which was visible following WWII.  That war and the terrible events which took place with the murder of Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals, led the world to say ‘never again’ and led to the Universal  Convention on Human Rights.  This led in time to the European Convention on Human Rights a convention strongly driven by Winston Churchill.  There was a feeling in the years that followed, with such conventions and other subsequent treaties, that the world was on an improving path and the horrors of the Second World War would not be repeated.  Improvements included a steady reduction in the number of countries using the death penalty.  The cold war eventually came to an end.  On the other hand, the use of torture around the world is still widespread with 141 countries still practising it according to Amnesty and this is specifically banned by the Universal Convention.

It was not of course plain sailing and we now realise that Chairman Mao murdered many millions of Chinese and there have been other monsters such a Pol Pot.  Nevertheless, there was this feeling that things were steadily improving and the UN provided a forum for nations to settle disputes short of going to war.  There was an assumption of western values of fairness, justice, free speech and the rule of law were becoming the norm.

Following Syria it is clear that this is no longer the case.  Human rights in China are poor in the extreme.  Thousands are executed and torture is routine.  There is no free press and it is a one party state.  Things are also deteriorating in Russia under President Putin.  Russia’s ‘victory’ in Syria has changed the dynamic.

UK

Last year, we celebrated the 800 years since the signing* of Magna Carta.  This was an attempt by the barons of the day to wrest some powers from the king.  It would be unwise to summarise British history in a paragraph, but an element of our history has been a steady attempt – sometimes peaceful, sometimes not – to secure rights for ordinary people against whoever was the elite or in power at the time.  It might be landowners or it might be factory owners for example.  They had the wealth and the power and were extremely reluctant to release any of it to the benefit of those at the bottom of the social order.  The lives of farm workers and those in factories was grim indeed and attempts to form unions was fiercely resisted.  The legal system did little to ameliorate the plight of the powerless in society.

The modern day Human Rights Act incorporated the ECHR into British law and meant that every citizen could defend his or her rights in the courts and that public organisations had to treat everyone with fairness, dignity and respect.

But we would argue that the fundamental thing the act did was to spell out what those rights are and it represented a major shift from rights being grudgingly given to the people to them being theirs as of right.  As Gearty expresses it in his book On Fantasy Island;

The Human Rights Act has a enables a range of individuals to secure legal remedies that in pre-act days would never have been achieved, perhaps even contemplated.  […] it has been particularly valuable for those whose grip on society is fragile, whose hold on their lives is precarious, whose disadvantage has robbed them of means of adequate engagement with adversity. (Conor Gearty, OUP, 2016, p131)

[…] it is clear that the human rights act is a documents that is profoundly subversive of the partisan national interest .  To put it mildly some people – often quite powerful people – do not like this.  (op cit, p8)

It is this shift of power that is so deeply resented and ‘some people,’ which includes some politicians, have grown to dislike the loss of power and assumed patronage that they had become used to.  The virtual ending of legal aid in the UK was a symptom of this desire to remove the ability of ordinary people to achieve redress or argue for their rights.

Picture: Left Foot Forward

Others of the ‘some people’ include chunks of the media.  The HRA created a right of privacy and this represented a huge problem for the ‘kiss and tell’ end of the media world.  These stories depended on substantial infringements of privacy, by phone hacking, not to expose corruption, but to find intimate details of politicians, celebrities and people in the public eye.  Owners of newspapers – all of whom live overseas – were exempt from this scrutiny and intrusion of course.

The result of this assault on their business models is of great concern to them and this is most probably the main reason why they have produced relentless series of negative stories about Europe and the HRA.  Rupert Murdoch was famously quoted in the Evening Standard as saying:

I [Stephen Hilton] once asked Rupert Murdoch why he was so opposed to the European Union. ‘That’s easy,’ he replied. ‘When I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.

It must also be why there are few political champions for the Act or the ECHR.  Any politician speaking up for it risks at best being ignored or at worst, having his or her private life raked over for something with which to denigrate them.  There is instead an almost unseemly rush to join in the claims to ‘bring sovereignty back’ or to take control of our laws.

Brexit

Graphic: Huffington Post

A real worry has to be Brexit.  The plan is to seek trade deals around the world sufficient to counter the effects of losing our access to the European market.  This is likely to be tough as we will no doubt soon learn from the USA.  To achieve these trade deals it is likely that our insistence on human rights will be weakened or even jettisoned altogether.  As we have noted in many previous blogs concerning Saudi and Yemen, our principal interest there has been in selling them weapons.  Despite considerable and irrefutable evidence of infringements of international humanitarian treaties, selling weapons is the primary aim of policy.

Until very recently, ministers have not needed to worry too much about the atrocities in Yemen.  Most attention was on Syria.  We did not even know British personnel were involved until it was blurted out by a Saudi prince.  In the last few months however, there have been two debates in the Commons and press interest is now at a slightly higher level.  The two debates revealed ministers more interested in promoting arms sales because of the economy and the jobs created, rather than in promoting human rights.

Public reaction

Perhaps the greatest worry of all however is the attitude of the public at large.  How concerned are they about human rights issues?  There seems little evidence that they are.  The Investigatory Powers Bill – referred to as the ‘Snooper’s Charter’ – passed easily through parliament with little public outcry.  Kate Allen, director of Amnesty said:

The UK is going in the wrong direction on rights, protections and fairness.  Public safety is paramount but not at the cost of civil liberties.  [Said in connection to the Snooper’s Charter]

It is hardly surprising when the major part of our media has carried out a sustained campaign against all things European leading, some might argue, to the decision to leave it.  It is truly ironic that for many years the Daily Mail has carried out a campaign against what it calls ‘Frankenstein Foods’.  The introduction of genetically modified foods has been seriously restricted by the European Union.  The trade deal with USA is likely to involve the import of GM foods of varying kinds as ministers will be unwilling or unable to resist the pressure if we want to continue to export to them.

The general tone of press coverage has been that we do not need the act.  It’s only of benefit to terrorists and assorted criminals who escape justice because of it (they argue).  The benefits of the act to ordinary people are rarely mentioned and often one can scour a story for any mention it where it was used.

Putting all these elements together, the sense that the steady progress of western values has come to an end, a hostile media keen to bad mouth human rights and to denigrate the Human Rights Act, the Conservative government’s prolonged threat to abolish it, the decision to leave the EU needing a concerted effort to secure trade deals at any cost, and many of the public who are not concerned about such matters, means that the prospect for human rights does not look promising.


* in fact the sealing

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