Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly January 18-24, 2016: Vietnam’s Communist Government Disperses Commemoration Given for Hoang Sa Fallen Martyrs Killed by China
Defenders’ Weekly | Jan 24, 2016
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On the morning of January 19, dozens of Vietnamese activists gathered in a monument in the center of Ho Chi Minh City to pay attribution for 74 Vietnamese soldiers who were killed by Chinese invaders in Hoang Sa (Paracels) 42 years ago. Local authorities deployed a large number of police officers and militia to the place, and ordered workers to spray water in the place where activists gathered, forcing them to leave the area.
Two days earlier, authorities in the southern city of Vung Tau also stopped a group of 20 activists when they were on their way to mark the invasion of the Chinese naval forces. Police officers illegally took activists’ flowers and destroyed them.
On January 16, U.S. Senator Janet Nguyen from California issued a press release calling on President Barack Obama to pressure Vietnam for releasing human rights activist Bui Thi Minh Hang,
Many civil society organizations from Myanmar and Vietnam signed a joint petition to demand Vietnam’s government to immediately release human rights activist Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant Le Thu Ha.
And other important news
Religious Freedom Attacked again, Catholics and Buddhists Being Main Targets
Asia News: Vietnamese authorities started the new year with new violent attacks against freedom of religion and worship, and those exercise this right, this according to the Liên Tôn (Interfaith) Association, which brings together Catholic, Protestant, Caodaist, Hoa Hao Buddhists and Unified Church leaders.
Active for years in defending freedom of worship, the group on 9 January posted its latest report online. In it, it slams Vietnam’s regime for its repressive attitude towards religions.
Signed by 23 religious leaders, including Protestant and Catholic clergymen, the statement was reposted by Églises d’Asie (EdA). In it, the authors highlight several attacks that have already occurred this year, and call on the authorities to respect religious freedom.
The first one involved the Hoa Hao Buddhist community, which was prevented from celebrating the 96th birthday of the founder, the Venerable Huynh Phu So. The main ceremony was scheduled for New Year’s Day in Long Giang, An Giang province, but police blocked all access roads and banned any celebration in the town. During the operation, police also wounded and mistreated some of the devotees, including a few who were elderly. This happens practically every year.
The next day, 2 January, the Benedictine monastery of Thien An, near Hue, was targeted. According to eyewitnesses, some 200 agents, militia and members of the local Women’s Federation stormed the compound. The authorities had their eyes on the property for years, and have already seized one section, turning into a leisure centre. The monks tried to resist the raid but were physically attacked. The attackers seized the camera the monks used to document the incident.
Catholics were also the target of a third attack, in Vinh, already the scene of past acts of violence and abuse by the authorities. This week, some 20 thugs attacked a priest, as he returned to his parish church after a medical examination. The attack, which left the priest seriously wounded, took place before the eyes of the local police who made a point not to intervene.
Fr Dang Huu Nam’s action in favor of human rights and freedoms, including freedom of worship, was behind the attack. The clergyman has in fact led the fight against expropriations of Church property. He has also tried to obtain the release of 14 Catholics unjustly arrested in 2011, for which he received many death threats.
In a country of 87 million people, Buddhists are 48 per cent of the population; Catholics just over 7 per cent, followed by Syncretists at 5.6 per cent. Atheists represent 20 per cent.
Although Christians are a minority, they are active in the fields of education, health and social welfare.
Recently, Vietnam’s Catholic bishops criticized a bill on faith and religion that fails to uphold the principle of freedom of religion and effectively limits its practice. In their view, the new legislation also violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, both of which guarantee freedom of worship.
Senator Janet Nguyen Continues to Call on President Obama to Advocate for the release of Vietnamese Human Rights Prisoner Hang Minh Thi Bui
Phu Nu Viet: In her ongoing effort to draw attention to the case of Vietnamese Human Rights Prisoner Hang Minh Thi Bui (a.k.a. Bùi Thị Minh Hằng), Senator Janet Nguyen has once again petitioned President Barack Obama for assistance. Senator Nguyen first approached President Obama in May of 2015 and hopes that drawing constant attention to Ms. Bui’s case will result in her release.
“As the second anniversary of her February 2014 arrest approaches, I think it is timely to call on President Obama once again to ask the Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to release Ms. Bui,” said Senator Janet Nguyen. “I am hopeful that the President and the U.S. Department of State will echo our cries to the Vietnamese government so that Ms. Bui can regain her freedom.”
In her new letter, Senator Nguyen highlighted once again the arbitrary arrest and conviction that resulted in Ms. Bui’s three-year prison sentence. Senator Nguyen also shared with President Obama that she received a letter from Ms. Bui’s son weeks after her 2015 inquiry. In his letter Mr. Tran Bui Trung, son of Ms. Hang Minh Thi Bui, thanked Senator Nguyen for her efforts to regain his mother’s freedom which has served as additional motivation for Senator Nguyen to continue to shed light on Ms. Bui’s incarceration.
“Ms. Bui is an advocate for human rights who has fought to exercise basic freedoms of expression in a country that actively works to oppress dissenting opinions,” said Senator Nguyen. “She deserves to be free and reunited with her family.”
Advocating for Ms. Bui’s release has always been important to Senator Nguyen because Ms. Bui’s health has deteriorated significantly since she was arrested. During her time in prison, Ms. Bui has also been subjected to mistreatment by other prisoners and has been held in isolation.
Senator Nguyen’s letter to President Obama was also shared with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, Ted Osius, as well as members of the U.S. Congress.
============ January 19=========
Police in HCMC Disperse Anti-China Protest, Detaining Three Activists
Defend the Defenders: Security forces in Ho Chi Minh City on Jan 19 dispersed the gathering of local activists on the occasion of the 42nd anniversary of the loss of Hoang Sa (Paracels) to China, detaining three activists, according to social networks.
In the morning of Tuesday, dozens of activists gathered in the city’s center to pay a memory to 74 soldiers of the Vietnam Republic Army who fought against the naval forces of the People’s Liberation Army of China but later killed by the invading forces.
The activists were outnumbered by security agents. The city’s authorities later sent workers to spray water the areas of Tran Hung Dao monument in the city, forcing the anti-China protestors to leave the areas.
Police also detained three activists named Hoang Dung, Dinh Nhat Uy and Huynh Thanh Phat.
Meanwhile, hundreds of activists in Hanoi also gathered in the city’s center to hold a commemoration for the fallen soldiers killed by Chinese in Hoang Sa 42 years ago. The activists hang banners to condemn China’s invasion and demand Beijing to return Hoang Sa as well as a number of islands and reefs for Vietnam.
Hanoi’s authorities deployed a large number of police officers to the area, however, they did not make any trouble for the commemoration.
The commemoration of Hoang Sa fallen martyrs was made just one day of the 12th National Congress of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam which prioritizes comradeship with the ruling Chinese communists.
The security in Vietnam has been tightened in weeks before the congress which takes every five years to decide the development course for the nation and elect the new leadership, including the communist party’s general secretary.
Last week, Vietnam’s security forces held a live drill in the capital city with deployment of helicopters and tanks to deal with coup and mass demonstration in a bid to ensure security for the party’s event.
Meanwhile, China has continued to develop civil and military facilities in Hoang Sa and the invaded part of Truong Sa (Spratlys) in a bid to solidify its illegal claim of over 90% of the resource-rich sea.
Vietnam has peacefully administered Hoang Sa and Truong Sa before the 17th century.
German Cardinal Denied Access to Vietnam Diocese
Ucanews: German Cardinal Reinhard Marx was denied access to Vinh Diocese during a weeklong visit to Vietnam in January, church officials in the communist country said.
Cardinal Marx, head of the German bishops’ conference, led a five-member delegation during a Jan. 9-16 visit to Vietnam, at the invitation of Vietnamese bishops.
Bishop Paul Nguyen Thai Hop of Vinh in central Vietnam said the Government Committee for Religious Affairs “refused to allow the delegation to visit and celebrate religious services in Vinh as planned” without offering a reason.
Under current regulations on religion, the government is required to state why they refuse permission for religious activities, Bishop Hop said.
“We demand the Government Committee for Religious Affairs make clear the reason why it refused the visit, in addition, [that they] obey the law and respect religious freedom specified by the constitution and laws,” Bishop Hop said in a document sent to the committee.
The document was posted on the diocese’s website in mid-January.
Under Vietnam’s constitution, international relationships between domestic and foreign religious organizations must be respected and fostered.
Vinh Diocese is considered one of Vietnam’s “hot spots,” where Catholics are routinely subjected to severe religious oppression. Local priests reportedly have been physically attacked, religious activities are restrained and lay Catholics have been harassed by police.
In the latest incident, Father Anthony Dang Huu Nam, pastor of Tan Yen parish and a noted human rights and democracy advocate, was assaulted on Dec. 31 by a group of attackers.
Paul Le Son, a Catholic from Vinh, told ucanews.com that he tried to pass a letter to Cardinal Marx that detailed gross violations of religious liberty in the diocese, including the confiscation of church property.
During his eight-day visit to Vietnam, Cardinal Reinhard, one of Pope Francis’ nine cardinal advisers, met with church leaders and Catholics in Bac Ninh, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
He also visited the Lovers of the Holy Cross Sisters of Thu Thiem in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 2, where local authorities have forced residents, including religious organizations, to leave the area to make way for building projects.
While meeting with local religious leaders Cardinal Marx said: “No political and economic organizations can injure religious freedom.”
The cardinal said the purpose of the visit was to study the life of the Catholic Church in Vietnam, a country in the throes of social and economic change.
============ January 21====
Cambodia Changes Its Approach to Montagnard Refugees from Vietnam
Radio of Free Asia: The Cambodian government’s apparent change of heart regarding a group of Montagnards who are seeking asylum as they attempt to flee Vietnam, is being viewed by some human-rights advocates as a sign that Phnom Penh is beginning to take seriously its obligations to refugees.
“Other than sending them back home to Vietnam, the government didn’t seem to want to pay attention to them,” said Sam Sam Ath, technical coordinator for the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO). “Now, there are 13 people that the government has declared refugees that it is aiming to send to the Philippines soon. We see this as a good sign for Cambodia as a member of the International Convention on Refugees.”
The announcement comes after a Wednesday meeting to discuss asylum seekers’ situation between Cambodian Interior Minister Sar Kheng and James Lynch, the regional representative of the U.N. refugee agency’s (UNHCR). The 13 Montagnards were selected from the about 200 who crossed into Cambodia in 2014 claiming to have fled persecution in Vietnam.
Interior Department spokesman Kim Sarin confirmed to RFA’s Khmer Service that the Montagnards with refugee status since 2014 were being transferred to the Philippines, but it is unclear where they will ultimately end up. It was also unclear when they would embark for the Philippines. The exact number of Montagnards seeking asylum is also unclear as some were sent back to Vietnam because they lacked the documents to prove they are refugees, Sarin said.
UNHCR representative Vivian Tan in a Dec. 2015 email told RFA that the agency has facilitated the process of sending 52 Montagnards who volunteered to go from Phnom Penh back to Vietnam.
Cambodia has only recognized the 13 Montagnards as refugees, while dozens have been deported and hundreds have been left to twist in the wind as the government refused to process their claims. The U.N.’s 1951 Convention on Refugees, to which Cambodia is a signatory, requires countries to process refugee claims.
The government has set a series of deadlines for the Montagnards awaiting processing saying they have to go back to Vietnam voluntarily or they will be forcibly repatriated.
“If they agreed to register and speed up the process of assessing their status with UNHCR, then that is very good,” Denise Coghlan, director of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Cambodia told the Phnom Penh Post.
Donors Should Call for Pluralism and End to One-Party Rule: Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch: Vietnam’s Communist Party should use its twelfth National Congress to announce that free and fair elections will be held to elect the country’s leaders, Human Rights Watch said today. Vietnam’s donors, who regularly call for free and fair elections in countries such as Burma and Cambodia, should publicly call for pluralistic elections in Vietnam and an end to one-party rule.
The Communist Party Congress is scheduled to meet from January 21-January 28 in Hanoi. 1,510 party officials will elect the new Central Committee of the Party which, in turn, will select the top leaders of the country at many levels. Formally, the rubber stamp National Assembly then elects the President and Prime Minister.
“The future of more than 90 million Vietnamese should not be decided by a small group of communist party officials,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Vietnam should finally adhere to its international legal commitments and allow an election by its citizens instead of yet another selection by the ruling party.”
Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Vietnam ratified in 1982, states that citizens have the right to “take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives” and to “vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors.”
The Communist Party stage manages elections for the National Assembly every five years. Genuine opposition parties are not allowed to organize or contest elections. The Communist Party dominates this process and only tolerates token candidates who are not members of the party.
Article 4 of Vietnam’s constitution formally gives the Communist Party the right to rule the country, stating that it is, “the Vanguard of the working class, concurrently the vanguard of the laboring people and Vietnamese nation, faithfully representing the interests of the working class, laboring people and entire nation, and acting upon the Marxist-Leninist doctrine and Ho Chi Minh Thought, is the force leading the State and society.” Efforts in 2013 to amend this provision to allow for multi-party pluralism not only failed but resulted in key changes to strengthen the Communist Party’s monopoly on power, further narrowing the legal space to exercise the right to pluralistic and freely contested elections.
With a monopoly on power, the Communist Party operates as a de facto government, controlling the country through a battery of broad and vague provisions in its penal code and other laws to silence and imprison critics and those calling for democracy.
Human Rights Watch called on the party congress to make commitments to improve the country’s dismal human rights situation, including repeal of laws that allow peaceful critics to be turned into political prisoners. In November 2015, Vietnam passed a revised penal code which included provisions aimed at silencing bloggers and rights activists. The same month the public security minister, General Tran Dai Quang, reported to the National Assembly that from June 2012 until November 2015 the police had arrested 2,680 people who for unspecified national security offenses and targeted more than 60 groups promoting democracy and human rights.
Arrests of activists have continued. An illustrative recent case is the December 2015 arrest of prominent rights campaigner Nguyen Van Dai, who was charged him with “conducting propaganda against the state.” Nguyen Van Dai’s fellow activist Le Thu Ha was also arrested the same day on an unknown charge. Nguyen Van Dai, 46, is a human rights lawyer who supported the formation of many rights groups including the Vietnam Independent Union and the pro-democracy 8406 Bloc in 2006. He was arrested in March 2007 and sentenced to five years imprisonment. In November 2007, the appeal court reduced his sentence to four years. Nguyen Van Dai received the prestigious Hellman Hammett award in 2007. Despite intrusive police surveillance and harassment, in April 2013, Nguyen Van Dai helped found Brotherhood for Democracy “to defend human rights recognized by the Vietnam Constitution and international Conventions” and “to promote the building of a democratic, progressive, civilized and just society for Vietnam.” In May 2014, thugs assaulted and injured him when he was chatting with fellow activists in a café.
Ten days prior to his recent arrest, Nguyen Van Dai and three other fellow activists were attacked and beaten in Nghe An province by a group of about 20 men in civilian clothes wearing surgical masks to hide their identity. Earlier that day, Nguyen Van Dai had given a talk about the constitution and human rights. On the morning of the arrest, he was supposed to meet with representatives from the EU delegation who were in Vietnam to hold a bilateral human rights dialogue with Vietnam.
“The recent arrest of a human rights defenders like Nguyen Van Dai shows that reform remains elusive,” said Adams. “The party congress is a chance to show the Vietnamese people that the country is ready to modernize instead of remaining mired in one-party rule which suffocates free expression and aspirations for democracy. It is time for Vietnam to bring its laws into compliance with its international human rights commitments, not just with the interests of the Communist Party.”
======= January 23========
Civil Society Organizations from Vietnam, Myanmar Sign Joint Petition Demanding for Release of Lawyer Nguyen Van Dai
Many civil society organizations from Myanmar and Vietnam have signed a joint petition to Vietnam’s government to request for immediate and unconditional release of human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant Le Thu Ha.
The two activists were arrested on December 16 last year and accused of conducting anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the country’s Penal Code. Currently, the duo is held in the Hanoi-based B14 detention facility.
In their petition, the signed parties say Mr. Dai and Ms. Ha did nothing wrong but exercised their freedom of expression. They urged Vietnam’s communist government to respect the basic human rights.
Health of Prominent Blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh Has Seriously Worsened: Wife
Mrs. Le Thi Minh Ha, the wife of prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh (aka AnhBaSam) has sent a letter to the Ministry of Public Security and the Vietnam Supreme People’s Court to raise her concerns about the weak health conditions of the blogger.
Mr. Vinh, the co-founder of the well-known news website AnhBaSam, was detained in early May of 2014, together with his assistant Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy. The duo is accused of abusing democracy under Article 258 of the Penal Code.
Vietnam planned to hold a trial against the duo on January 19, but later postponed for unspecific schedule.
Many foreign governments, including those from the U.S. and EU’s countries have urged Vietnam to release the two activists, however, Hanoi continues to hold them for nearly 21 months without bringing to court.
Vietnamese Secondary School Student Severely Beaten by Police During Interrogation
Defend the Defenders: Dang Van Hanh, a secondary school student in Vietnam’s northern province of Thai Binh has been severely beaten by local policemen who accused the 15-year-old boy of stealing a cell phone.
Hanh, a boy from Tay Ninh commune in Tien Hai district said he was tortured by communal policemen who detained him on evening of October 22, 2015 and interrogated him until 11 PM of the same day.
No relatives of the boy was invited to attend the interrogation, Hanh said.
According to the medical test taken on the next day in the district general hospital, Hanh’s nose was broken. His face was with a number of other severe injuries.
The victim said Dung, deputy chief of the communal police beat the boy on his face, and threw his shoe to the school student. Mr. Tuan, the communal police chief, also used his hand to beat the boy, causing blooding via his nose, the victim said.
The policemen brought him to a local medical facility to get treated for blooding before releasing him.
The Tay Ninh communal police rejected the accusation, saying Hanh was beaten by relatives of the person who lost the cell phone.
According to the Vietnamese law, police can only detain immature people in the age of between 14 and 16 years old in very severe cases and they are interrogated with presence of their legal representatives.
Abuse of Vietnam’s police, especially in communal level, is increasing. In mid January, Nguyen Thanh Tam, a student of 9-grade class in the central province of Quang Ngai, committed suicide after being interrogated by local police without presence of his relatives nor teacher, according to the state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper reported Saturday (http://tuoitre.vn/tin/ban-doc/20160116/hs-lop-9-len-xa-lam-viec-ve-nha-viet-thu-roi-tu-tu/1039513.html).
Tam, 17, took a herbicide in a bid to end his life on January 13 after leaving a letter to his parents to ask for forgiveness. He said in his letter that he cannot live with the groundless accusation of the local police of stealing money from a local official.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Public Security has sought to give more power to policemen in grassroots level. In its proposal to the country’s legislative body, the ministry suggests to allow communal police forces to conduct preliminary investigation in criminal cases, triggering concerns among legislators, legal experts and human rights for enhanced abuse of the law enforcement in the lowest administrative units.
Most of communal policemen are untrained, many of them even graduated only secondary school, according to state media.
====== January 24============
U.S. Senators Demand to Re-designate Vietnam in CPC List
Defend the Defenders: A group of U.S.’s senators, led by Taxas-based Senator John Cornyn, has asked the Secretary of State to re-designate Vietnam a “country of particular concern” (CPC) with respect to religious freedom under the International Religious freedom Act.
In the bill named the Vietnam Human Rights Sanctions Act or S. 929, Senator Cornyn and co-sponsored Senator John Boozman from Arkansas, Senator Bill Cassidy from Louisiana and Senator Marco Rubio from Florida urged the U.S. Senate to impose sanctions and travel restrictions on Vietnamese nationals who are complicit in human rights abuses against other Vietnamese.
The relationship between the U.S. and Vietnam cannot progress if the government of Vietnam continues to completely disregard the human rights of its own citizens. There is a serious and immediate need for more targeted U.S. action on behalf of the Vietnamese people, and I will continue to fight for those citizens who have lost their basic civil, religious, and political liberties at the hands of their own government, Sen. Cornyn said in his website.
if passed by the Senate, the bill would direct the U.S. President to compile a list of Vietnamese nationals deemed to be complicit in human rights abuses in Vietnam, prohibit those individuals from entering the U.S., and impose financial sanctions on them.
In the one-party Vietnam, the communist government has intensified crackdown against political dissidents, social activists and human rights activists, especially several months before the 12th National Congress of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam, and after Hanoi and Washington, together with 10 other nations concluded the negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.
Last month, Vietnam detained prominent human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant Le Thu Ha, and former political prisoner Le Thanh Tung and charged them with “anti-state” propaganda under Article 88 of the country’s Penal Code.
In September, Vietnam re-arrested Tran Anh Kim, who completed his 66-month imprisonment for peaceful political activities, and accused him of conducting anti-state activities under Article 79 of the Penal Code.
Vietnam has also used other controversial articles such as Articles 245 and 258 to silence government critics, including prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh or AnhBaSam and young IT engineer Nguyen Viet Dung.
In addition, security forces have intimidated many other activists, beating or hiring thugs to assault them, causing severe injuries and robbing their properties. Victims of police abuse include labor activists Do Thi Minh Hanh ad Truong Minh Duc, bloggers Nguyen Huu Vinh, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, Truong Van Dung, Tran Thuy Nga, Nguyen Lan Thang, Truong Minh Huong, Nguyen Huu Tuan, Truong Minh Tam and Tran Minh Nhat, human right lawyer Tran Thu Nam and Le Van Luan.
According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, Vietnam is holding around 130 political prisoners.
Vietnamese Detainee Dies Eleven Days Before Trial, Police Say Acute Pneumonia Causes His Death
Defend the Defenders: Luong Minh Tuan, a resident from Vietnam’s southern province of Long An and was detained for allegation of property stealing several months ago, died on January 17 in a local hospital, eleven days ahead of the scheduled trial against him, state media has reported (http://www.baomoi.com/Bi-can-chet-toa…/c/18517519.epi…)
While the medical staff of the Duc Hoa district-based Hau Nghia General Hospital said the causes of his death are unknown and can only be determined after autopsy, the district police said he died from acute pneumonia, according to state-run Nong Thon Ngay Nay newspaper.
Mr. Tuan, 22, was accused of stealing property worth VND6 million ($270), equal to two minimum monthly salaries in the communist nation, and his trial was set on Jan 28.
His mother Luong Thi Kim Tuyet said Tuan was healthy when she visited him on January 15 at the detention facility of the Duc Hoa district. On the evening of the same day, she was informed by Tuan’s friend that her son was transferred to the hospital for emergency.
When she went to the hospital, she recognized that her son fell in coma. Senior officials from the provincial Department of Health said Tuan was in clinical death before being admitted to the hospital, the newspaper said.
Tuan is among a number of detainees dying before being tried this month. Also in mid January, Mr. Dang Van Hanh from the central province of Nghe An died after being arrested on allegation of stealing two boxes of bricks.
In another case, Nguyen Thanh Tam, a student of 9-grade class in the central province of Quang Ngai, committed suicide after being interrogated for allegation of property stealing by local police without presence of his relatives nor teacher, according to state media.
In Vietnam where torture and other ill-treatment is systemic, many people died in police stations and detention facilities. According to the Ministry of Public Security, 226 detainees and prisoners died in the period between October 2011 and September 2014. Last year, around twenty people died in police stations and dozens suffered severe injuries.
While police said illness and suicides were main causes of their deaths, the victims’ families believe that police torture is the key reason.
Few Vietnamese policemen have been disciplined for torturing suspects.
Vietnam adopted the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2014.
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