STRASBOURG, France — The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday ruled Russia violated the rights of a transgender woman who authorities did not allow to visit her children because of her gender identity.
A press release that Transgender Europe and ILGA-Europe issued says Moscow authorities “prevented” the woman “from having contact with her children because of her gender identity and transition.”
The Transgender Europe and ILGA-Europe press release notes Russian courts defended the decision to restrict the woman’s parental rights because any contact with a parent who is trans would have had a “negative impact on the mental health and psychological development” of her children. The European Court of Human Rights specifically ruled Russia violated Articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights that guarantee a person has the “right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence” and the “prohibition of discrimination” respectively.
“The kids are alright — there is nothing wrong with being a trans parent,” said Transgender Europe Executive Director Masen Davis. “Today, we celebrate this important message together with all trans families. Every fourth trans person in Europe is a parent. Today’s judgement gives legal security to many of them. We congratulate the applicant for having gone all the way to Strasbourg to defend her right to be the best possible parent to her children.”
ILGA-Europe Executive Director Evelyne Paradis echoed Davis.
“Too often we are hearing the best interest of the child being abused as an argument to limit the rights of LGBTI people,” said Paradis. “We are glad to see the court clearly rejecting such an abusive argument, and instead naming very concrete responsibilities for state authorities in ensuring the best interest of the child. Spreading hatred, misinformation and splitting loving parents from their children is not in the best interest of children.”
The press release notes the ruling is the first time the European Court of Human Rights has used Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights in a decision about discrimination based on gender identity. The ruling also underscores the lack of legal protections and rampant discrimination that LGBTQ Russians continue to face.
Marina and her then-girlfriend in 2015 fled their home Russia with the child they were raising together and asked for asylum in the U.S. as a family.
“If the government knows that I have an LGBT family, like two women and a child, they can take my daughter away,” Marina told the Washington Blade earlier this year during a telephone interview from Guam where she and her child continue to wait for a decision in their case.
Marina’s child has come out as trans and has begun to transition.
Russian Duma’s lower House passes anti-LGBTQ propaganda law
The legislation still needs the approval of the upper House and President Putin- introduces an expanded “all ages” anti-LGBTQ propaganda ban
MOSCOW – A new law which expands Russia’s “gay propaganda” law signed by Russian president Vladimir Putin in June 2013 passed the lower House of the State Duma (parliament) on Thursday.
The legislation, which still needs the approval of the upper House of the Duma and President Putin, introduces an expanded “all ages” ban on “propaganda of non-traditional relations,” paedophilia, as well as a ban on the dissemination of information about LGBTQ people in the media, the Internet, advertising, literature and cinema.
The language of the bill, according to the official Russian state news agency TASS, also introduces a ban on issuing a rental certificate to a film if it contains materials that promote non-traditional sexual relations and preferences is established. The document also provides for the introduction of a mechanism that restricts children’s access to listening to or viewing LGBTQ+ information on paid services.
The newly expanded law provides for the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, abbreviated as Roskomnadzor, to be vested with the right to determine the procedure for conducting monitoring on the Internet to identify information, access to which should be restricted in accordance with the federal law on information.
A requirement is also set on paid services to enter codes or perform other actions to confirm the age of the user. At the same time, access to LGBTQ+ information is prohibited for citizens under 18 years of age.
In addition, it provides for a ban on the sale of goods, including imported goods, containing information, the dissemination of which provides for administrative or criminal liability.
Also, the law “on the protection of children from information harmful to their health and development” is supplemented by an article on the promotion of non-traditional sexual relations, pedophilia and information that can make children want to change their sex.
The latter language pointedly inserted as transgender people have been a frequent target of attacks by the Russian president in speeches recently blaming the West for a global decay in moral values that run counter to what Putin describes as “Russia’s strong morals.”
In an October speech announcing the illegal annexation of four Ukrainian territories, Putin attacked the Western nations on the issue of gay and transgender rights.
“Do we want children from elementary school to be imposed with things that lead to degradation and extinction?” he asked. “Do we want them to be taught that instead of men and women, there are supposedly some other genders and to be offered sex-change surgeries?”
It’s not just the Russian leader. Patriarch Kirill, head of the powerful and influential Russian Orthodox Church, portrayed the war with Ukraine as a struggle seeking to reject Western values and LGBTQ+ pride parades.
Vyacheslav Viktorovich Volodin, the Chairman of the State Duma and a former aide to Putin, is one of the bill’s sponsors. Volodin told TASS that the bill is “adopted exclusively in the interests of all Russians.”
“We have a different path, our grandfathers, great-grandfathers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers chose it. We have traditions, we have a conscience, we have an understanding that we need to think about children, families, the country, to preserve what we handed over by the parents,” Volodin said.
A spokesperson for Human Rights Watch told the Blade this expansion of the 2013 “gay propaganda” law “is a classic example of political homophobia. It targets vulnerable sexual and gender minorities for political gain.”
A young Russian LGBTQ+ activist, who asked to not be identified for fear of Russian government reprisals, spoke to the Blade from Helsinki, Finland, regarding this latest effort by the so-called conservative “family values” politicians in the Duma.
“This is a distraction to avoid the real news of dead young Russian males killed in his illegal war in Ukraine,” they said. “These [Russian obscenity] politicians want to so-called “non-traditional” LGBTQ+ lifestyles practised by lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people out of public life- make us erased. They and their so called colluders in church are ignorant of truth that LGBTQ+ people will exist no matter what. It is scientific fact not their religious fairytales and fictions.”
The activist also told the Blade they had fled to avoiding the Russian military draft enacted by Russia to replenish the levels of combat troops fighting in Putin’s illegal war, in the face of mounting casualties and wounded soldiers.
HRW noted that given the already deeply hostile climate for LGBTQ+ people in Russia, the organization warned there will be uptick in often-gruesome vigilante violence against LGBTQ+ people in Russia—frequently carried out in the name of protecting Russian values and Russia’s children.
Legal scholars say the vagueness of the bill’s language gives room for government enforcers to interpret the language as broadly as they desire, leaving members of the Russian LGBTQ+ community and their allies in a state of even greater fear and stress filled uncertainty.
Belgian Parliament approves a ban on conversion therapy
“Belgium is a pioneer in the field of LGBTQ rights- but a ban [on conversion practices] was sadly missing from our legislative arsenal”
BRUSSELS – The Federal bicameral Parliament of Belgium approved a ban on the practise of conversion therapy according to the State Secretary for Gender Equality, Equal Opportunity and Diversity Sarah Schlitz.
The Brussels Times, an English-language Belgian news website and magazine, reported that in a press statement Schlitz said: “Belgium is a pioneer in the field of LGBTQ rights. Numerous legislative reforms and social efforts bear witness to this, but a ban [on conversion practices] was sadly missing from our legislative arsenal,” Schlitz said in a press release.
The Belgian Cabinet has approved a new law to ban LGBT+ conversion practices, with practitioners facing a maximum punishment of two years imprisonment if found liable. The law will come into effect once approved by the Chamber of Representatives 🇧🇪🏳️🌈 https://t.co/TGf8egxi4h— Global Equality Caucus (@Equality_Caucus) November 18, 2022
The Brussels based non-profit educational think tank association, Centre Permanent pour la Citoyenneté et la Participation, noted in a May 2022 report that the practices, which are aimed at changing or removing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, can take many forms ranging from the discussion table to drug treatments or exorcism sessions.
The Centre found that overall the affect of conversion therapy had long term damaging affects. The report went on to note that conversion therapy practices are “deceptive, ineffective and dangerous” practices that aim to change, suppress or eliminate the sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression of LGBTQ people.
Methods range from psychotherapy and electroshock therapy to beatings and even “corrective rape.” They can take place in religious, medical or sectarian environments, can be carried out by relatives or pseudo-professionals and have terrible consequences for the people who undergo them, The Brussels Times reported quoting the findings.
“The opportunity to be yourself and the freedom to live the way you want is a fundamental principle of our society that must not be compromised under any circumstances,” Schlitz said. “This prohibition is a powerful act to protect the victims from this symbolic, psychological and sometimes physical violence.”
The Times went on to report that anyone caught practising and violating the ban may be facing imprisonment of one month to two years and/or a fine of €100 to €300.
The language of the law also specifies that [the court] will also take into account whether the offence was committed by a person in a recognised position of trust, authority or influence over the victim and whether the offence was committed against a minor or a person in a vulnerable situation.
Suggesting or inciting conversion practices, directly or indirectly, will also be penalised. The court will be able to prohibit people convicted of conversion practices from carrying out a professional or social activity related to the commission of these offences for a maximum period of five years, the Times noted.
Uganda lawmaker says international agreement has ‘hidden clauses’ to promote homosexuality
MAPUTO, Mozambique — Several LGBTQ+ and intersex rights groups in Uganda have sharply criticized Deputy Parliament Speaker Thomas Tayebwa’s assertion that an agreement between the European Union and the Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States has “hidden clauses” designed to promote homosexuality.
Tayebwa made the remarks during the 42nd session of the Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) — EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly that took place in Maputo, Mozambique, from Oct. 29-Nov. 2.
“We have discovered that with the Cotonou Agreement — an agreement between the EU and OACPS based on three complementary pillars: Development cooperation, economic and trade cooperation and the political dimension — there are hidden clauses concerning human rights,” said Tayebwa. “Clauses to do with sexuality, promotion of LGBT or homosexuality and clauses to do with abortion. We are a society that is not ready for homosexuality and we are a society that is not ready for abortion. It can never be accepted in Uganda.”
“It’s not a surprise to me and most of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community at large in Uganda that the deputy speaker of Parliament made such homophobic comments because the government he represents is homophobic too,” said Happy Family Uganda Executive Director Iga Isma. “According to me, he has no right to think about our own lifestyle. Everyone lives a life that they naturally want. If someone doesn’t eat meat, it does not mean that everyone doesn’t. I am in full support of donor countries to stop funding African countries that fail to legalize same sex relationships however, we might be affected too.”
Pastor Ram Gava Kaggwa from Adonai Inclusive Christian Ministries, who is the executive director of Wave of Legacy Alliance Initiative Uganda, said sexual orientation does not have anything to do with whether one is African or not.
“Sexual orientation totally differs based on personal desires and wishes, it’s time to change the biased perspective on our sexual differences, just because you are practicing a different sexual narrative does not necessarily mean the other is wrong otherwise we are bound to see the spread of gender-based violence due to differences in sexual identity which may and can arise from hate speech spread through the heteronormative narrative which is taught in a manner that does not create room for respect of sexual differences,” said Kaggwa. “It is important to acknowledge the differences, variations and diversities of the community and modern-day society and respect each other regardless of such differences for we are all human and this is what exactly bonds us regardless of the different beliefs and values embodied in us.”
Kaggwa further encouraged lawmakers in Uganda and across Africa “to let and affirmatively acknowledge the rights and existence of 2SLGBTQIA+ persons and their rights at a common law level.”
“The remarks by the deputy speaker of the Parliament of Uganda can only be attributed to hypocrisy that is normally exhibited by government officials during overseas tours, if not, it was an act of ignorance of the provisions of the Constitution of Uganda,” noted Anthony. “Article 24 of the Ugandan Constitution and the Article of the African Charter on Human and Peoples rights provides against inhuman and degrading treatment. The above provisions have laid a foundation against any enactment by the state or individual initiatives against violation of individual human rights of citizens and non-citizens in Uganda.”
“Furthermore, Hon. Thomas Tayebwa cannot purport to speak for Africa since African countries are sovereign States which are governed by different legal dispensations, and whereas some African countries have moved a notch higher to respect their citizens’ human rights, others are still slow and struggling,” he added. “Therefore, it can only be fair that he speaks for Uganda where he is deputy speaker of Parliament.”
Uganda is among the African countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.
President Yoweri Museveni in February 2014 signed into law a bill that sought to impose a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. The Obama administration subsequently cut or redirected aid to Uganda and announced a travel ban against Ugandan officials responsible for human rights abuses. The World Bank also postponed a $90 million loan to the Ugandan government after Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act.
The Ugandan Constitutional Court subsequently struck down the law.
Daniel Itai is the Washington Blade’s Africa Correspondent.
Report: Brittney Griner transferred to penal colony
Reuters noted WNBA star in country’s Mordovia region
YAVAS, Russia — Reuters on Thursday reported WNBA star Brittney Griner is now in a penal colony in Russia’s Mordovia region.
Officials at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February detained Griner — a Phoenix Mercury center and two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to her wife, Cherelle Griner — after customs inspectors allegedly found hashish oil in her luggage. The State Department has determined that Russia “wrongfully detained” her.
A Russian court on Aug. 4 convicted Brittney Griner of smuggling drugs into the country and sentenced her to nine years in a penal colony. An appellate court on Oct. 25 denied Brittney Griner’s appeal.
American officials have publicly acknowledged their willingness to release Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S., as part of a deal to secure the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, another American citizen who is serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia after his conviction for spying.
Brittney Griner’s lawyers earlier this month said authorities were transferring her to a penal colony.
Her whereabouts had not been known for nearly two weeks.
Reuters reported Brittney Griner is now at a female penal colony in Yavas, a city in Russia’s Mordovia region that is roughly 300 miles southeast of Moscow. Reuters noted Whelan is at a penal colony in the same area.
“We are aware of reports of her location, and in frequent contact with Ms. Griner’s legal team,” a State Department spokesperson told the Washington Blade on Thursday. “However, the Russian Federation has still failed to provide any official notification for such a move of a U.S. citizen, which we strongly protest. The embassy has continued to press for more information about her transfer and current location.”
Lithuanian filmmaker uses work to advance LGBTQ+, intersex rights
Romas Zabarauskas came out in 2011 at Vilnius Film Festival
WASHINGTON — A gay filmmaker from Lithuania who describes himself as the “Baltic enfant terrible” uses his work to promote LGBTQ+ and intersex rights.
Romas Zabarauskas, 32, grew up in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital.
He told the Washington Blade during an interview in D.C. in August that he initially wanted to be an actor, but soon realized he wanted to direct films.
Zabarauskas said the classic films — including John Waters’ “Pink Flamingos” and Douglas Sirk’s “All that Heaven Allows” —he watched in a local library exposed him to “the diversity of the world.” He also said Todd Haynes, Derek Jarman, Gregg Araki and other LGBTQ+ and intersex filmmakers “inspired” him.
“I enjoyed the diversity of the world,” he said. “It wasn’t just in terms of sexuality and gender identity, but also in terms of diversity of styles and ways of expression. It was amazing because it made me feel accepted.”
“It all sounds kind of trivial, but it’s true,” added Zabarauskas. “Cinema captures stories from all across the world in such different ways. That’s kind of amazing. I was definitely inspired by that.”
Zabarauskas studied at Paris 8 Vincennes Saint-Denis University from 2009-2011 and at City College of New York: Hunter College from 2011-2012.
Zabarauskas’ first film, “Porno Melodrama,” which details a gay man’s decision to make a pornographic movie with his ex-girlfriend in order to make enough money for him and his boyfriend to leave Lithuania, premiered at Berlin Film Festival in 2011.
“There are many other films that have this kind of paranoia about gay villains, queer villains. I almost wanted to do something opposite,” Zabarauskas told the Blade while discussing the film. “It’s as though heterosexuality becomes this villain through the character of this villain, this ex-girlfriend. I wanted to play with that, allow myself that freedom to go very far. The title really hints more so, not to the erotic aspect of the film, because it’s not as explicit reality, but it’s more about the style of the film because it’s so out there.”
Zabarauskas came out as gay during “Porno Melodrama”‘s premiere at the Vilnius Film Festival.
“Very few people were out (in Lithuania) then in 2011,” he noted. “I got a lot of media attention … I talked about what it means to be gay on TV, print and all kinds of media.”
“It was a double-edged sword,” added Zabarauskas. “I was happy to contribute with my openness and I continue to do so today. On the other hand, I got so much pressure … the direct homophobia is understandable and easy to dissect. You know what it is, but then there was a lot of gray zone. I feel like I was trapped. I went under this huge scrutiny.”
The Berlin Film Festival then screened “Porno Melodrama.”
“I traveled the world, but then because I got so much media attention in Lithuania I was scrutinized by the critics and by film lovers and a lot of people (said) that I’m more of an activist,” said Zabarauskas. “I’m more of a public speaker than a filmmaker. The way I see it: Artists should be engaged or can be engaged, and it doesn’t contradict the art.”
The Lithuanian Film Center funded Zabarauskas’ third feature film, “The Lawyer,” which debuted in 2020.
“The Lawyer” highlights Marius, a gay corporate lawyer who forms what Zabarauskas describes as “an unexpected, human relationship” with Ali, Syrian refugee who is unable to leave Belgrade, Serbia, after his estranged father dies. Zabarauskas noted to the Blade that “The Lawyer” is the first Lithuanian film that portrays a male same-sex relationships and is one of the few made in Eastern Europe that shows LGBTQ+ and intersex refugees.
“I’m always interested in delving into very complicated political situations, but rather than to educate or send a direct message, I’m looking to find nuance and I’m looking to find interesting human drama,” he said. “I also don’t shy away from the kind of dialogue that they [Marius and Ali] have, in which they criticize [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad. It’s so important not to forget that that was still ongoing and actually its fueled by Russia and by Putin.”
Lithuanian television showed “The Lawyer” for the first time on Nov. 11.
Lithuanian Shorts, in 2021 screened “Porno Melodrama,” which coincided with the film’s revival. Zabarauskas’ films have also been screened at the Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival and at New York City Pride’s human rights conference.
Zabarauskas spoke with the Blade nearly six months after Russia began its war against Ukraine.
Lithuania borders the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and Belarus, whose president, Alexander Lukashenko, is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Lithuania declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, a year before it dissolved.
Zabarauskas noted then-Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė in 2014 labeled Russia a “terrorist state” after it annexed Crimea. Lithuanian MPs in May unanimously approved a resolution that described Russia’s war against Ukraine as an “act of genocide.”
“It’s the first time that I can be so proud of my country,” Zabarauskas told the Blade, referring to Lithuania’s posture towards Russia. “I’m actually very proud that Lithuania is right in terms of its foreign policy towards Russia and has been for a while.”
Zabarauskas acknowledged there is “fear” among Lithuanians about whether Russia will target their country, but he said, “that primal fear isn’t there anymore.” Zabarauskas also noted Lithuanians have welcomed Ukrainians into their homes.
“That’s been inspiring,” he said.
Gay U.S. ambassador ‘setting a personal example’
Lithuania bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and has lifted restrictions for male blood donors who have sex with men. Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for LGBTQ+ and intersex rights, is among the more than 15,000 people who attended Baltic Pride 2022 in Vilnius in June.
Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius, the country’s second openly gay MP, is running to become Vilnius’ next mayor in 2023. Lithuanian Ambassador to the U.S. Audra Plepytė met with Zabarauskas when he was in D.C.
“Us artists, we have this opportunity to build bridges, to make pressure,” said Zabarauskas. “We sometimes have more freedom than politicians in what we can say and what we can do. I always try to use that in meeting diplomats and politicians and reminding them that the Lithuania LGBT+ is a part of Lithuanian society and we should celebrate our rights and our lives and that’s important.”
The Harvey Milk Foundation in 2021 honored Zabarauskas for his work. Zabarauskas noted this recognition to the Blade and applauded openly gay U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania Bob Gilchrist’s “personal leadership” on LGBTQ+ and intersex rights.
“I appreciate his leadership and I appreciate that he’s setting a personal example,” said Zabarauskas. “He’s making some impactful speeches at different events.”
Lithuania is one of only six European Union member states that do not legally recognize same-sex couples.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskky in August announced his support for a civil partnership law for same-sex couples. Zabarauskas told the Blade he hopes Lithuanian lawmakers will follow the Ukrainian president’s lead and back an identical measure that has been introduced in Parliament.
“It’s so huge and a lot of people are inspired by those words, including in Lithuania,” said Zabarauskas. “I think it will be impactful in terms of our chances to get the civil unions law passed because it’s going to be very difficult to twist those words.”
Zabarauskas also said he and his fiancé want to get married in Lithuania.
“We got engaged earlier this year and we don’t want to get married abroad because it wouldn’t change anything in Lithuania,” he said.
Indian insurance company appears to recognize same-sex couple
Life Insurance Corporation of India is public sector entity
MUMBAI, India — 2019 was a year of celebration for the Indian LGBTQ+ community. It was the year when the Indian Supreme Court struck down a colonial-era discriminatory law that criminalized homosexuality in the country, but same-sex marriage is still not legal.
The nation’s LGBTQ+ community has been continuously fighting to bring change.
The Delhi High Court is already in the process of hearing the petition on same-sex marriage.
Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC), a public sector insurance company under India’s Finance Ministry, last month shocked the country while replying to a question — “if a gay partner can be named as the nominee in the insurance policy or not?” under the Right to Information Act, RTI. The company in its reply said there is no legal bar for anyone to make their same sex partner a beneficiary in insurance policies in the name of that person.
A queer couple, Suchandra Das and Sree Mukherjee, who live in the eastern metropolitan city of Kolkata, initiated the RTI.
While talking to the media, Das said LIC mentioned in its reply that there is no legal bar to nominate any person, including strangers.
“In effect, this means that there is no bar for a policyholder from making a person not related to him or her by birth, consanguinity, marriage or adoption as his or her nominee,” said Das to Times Now News.
Though the LIC is under the government of India, which continuously opposes the law for same-sex marriage in the Delhi High Court, the RTI reply is in contradiction with the government’s stand.
“I welcome LIC’s move on inclusiveness,” said Kalki Subramaniam while reacting to the news.
Subramaniam is a transgender and climate rights activist.
“Inclusive steps by corporate companies to recognize LGBTQI communities are on the rise in India, which is very welcome. It helps us with opportunities for a better living through jobs and improved economic status.” she said.
Supreme Court judges have recently shown encouraging and positive support for the LGBTQ+ community in the country. In August, one of the top judges, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, while talking at an event in Delhi, called for structural and attitudinal changes in society to let the LGBTQ+ community live a life of autonomy and dignity.
While talking with the Washington Blade, Chetana Salunkhe, a digital creator with the LGBT Navi Mumbai, said that it is contradictory, but it’s still a stepping stone for equal rights.
“Marriage, adoption, inheritance are a few rights we are looking forward to. These rights not only give us the sense of equality, it gives is a sense of security and dependency,” said Salunkhe. “Talking about this step taken by LIC, at least queer couples get to be the depends of each other legally, which makes it a very happy news for every queer individual. And as it is correctly said ‘it is better to take small steps in the right direction than to take a great leap forward,’ this little step is also going to be a great one for queer individuals and legal system to understand and formulate safe and equal laws in regards to marriage, adoption, etc. for the community.”
Kanav Narayan Sahgal, a communications manager at Nyaaya, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, also expressed happiness on the LIC’s written reply on same-sex partners being a beneficiary in life insurance policies.
“LIC’s response to the RTI is a welcome move. And while the central government continues to oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage, one should welcome small steps like these in the long march toward equality,” said Sahgal in an email to the Blade. “However, it should be noted that even though a same-sex partner is a nominee, they don’t automatically get succession rights. LGBTQ+ organizations like Varta do have legal solutions to overcome these loopholes, but these issues can be fixed if the central government were to simply legislate on marriage equality and settle the matter once and for all.”
Ankush Kumar is a freelance reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion.
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