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In-depth Analysis of Sedition Law

In this research, researchers want a critical analysis of the Laws related to sedition. Researcher's main aim is to study the provisions of sedition laws incorporated in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and how much it is in conformity with the Constitution of India.

Research Question
  • What is sedition law
  • Historical background of sedition law
  • Indian and international perspective on sedition law
  • Legislation about sedition law
  • Comparative study

Research Methodology
The methodology of the present project includes doctrinal techniques

In doctrinal method we solve any problem with the help of law. Only with the help of legal resource, we see legal provision. We can solve any kind of problem from legal provision. It is only based on the legal proposition. In which researcher analyze any problem with the help of law and it is based on the only the written material.

Doctrinal research involves analyze of case law, arranging, ordering and systematizing legal proposition and study of legal institution through legal reasoning or rational deduction.

In this research field work is not needed and library reference is through enough. It is only based on library. The source of data is act judgment, legislation, and judiciary. It is not concerned with people.

What Is Sedition Law?

Sedition as an idea was advanced in and by the Britishers in the British Colonial India, and was presented by one Thomas Macaulay through his draft proposition in the time of 1837. In 1834 Macaulay acknowledged an encouragement to serve on the as of late made Supreme Council of India, anticipating that he could save from his compensation enough to give him a skill forever. He drafted a reformatory code that later turned into the premise of Indian criminal law, the IPC.

This arrangement of Sedition was presented in the preliminary readings, investigating and drafting of the Indian Penal Code, making it one of the prior laws enlisted during the frontier period. The dissidence law was presented as an offense through proviso 113 of the Draft Indian Penal Code by Thomas Macaulay in the year 1837.

The purpose behind its fuse in the draft was the expansion in renegade by the Indian progressives against the organization rulers. The Sedition law wasn't the solitary law which was passed by the British government to stifle the voices of Indian progressives. Different laws, for example, the Vernacular Press Act, 1878, [repealed in 1881], the Newspapers (Incitement of Offenses) Act, 1908, and the Indian Press Act, 1910 [repealed in 1921] - gave lawful support to the British government to limit voices that conflicted with it.

However, for the limit of this task, we will be adhering to the Sedition Law. Sedition in the context of India is still a very required law, but with its fair share of amendments. The law though sometimes has been upheld righteously; manner times has been used to curb the voices of dissent as well. Governments have used the law to keep the tongues and hands of many artists, journalists, and political activists in check and sometimes in a very negative way indeed. But the Sedition act does have its perks.

If used and amended judicially, Sedition law can be considered as a poignant tool to create proper checks and balances in the society, which is politically driven and just sometimes forgets about the duties that come with the fundamental rights given.

Historical Background
Sedition law was the section corresponding to section 124A, the law that defines sedition in the IPC, was originally section 113 of Macaulay's Draft Penal Code of 1837-39, but the section was omitted from the IPC as it was enacted in 1860. James Fitz James Stephens, the architect of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, has been quoted as saying that this omission was the result of a mistak1.

Another explanation for this omission is that the British government wished to adopt more wide-ranging strategies against the press including a deposit-forfeiture system and general powers of preventive action. Section 124A was introduced by the British colonial government in 1870 when it felt the need for a specific section to deal with the offence. Prominent persons charged with sedition under this law include Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mohandas Gandhi.

The framework of this section was imported from various sources the Treason Felony Act (operating in Britain), the common law of seditious libel and the English law relating to seditious words. The common law of seditious libel governed both actions and words that pertained to citizens and the government, as well as between communities of persons. The initial cases that invoked the sedition law included numerous prosecutions against the editors of nationalist newspapers.

The first among them was the trial of Yogendra Chandra Bose in 1891. Bose, the editor of the newspaper, Bang Obasi, wrote an article criticizing the Age of Consent Bill for posing a threat to religion and for it co-receive relationship with Indians. His article also commented on the negative economic impact of British colonialism. Bose was prosecuted and accused of exceeding the limits of legitimate criticism, and inciting religious feelings. The judge rejected the defense's plea that there was no mention of rebellion in his article.

However, the proceedings against Bose were dropped after he tended an apology. Bal Gangadhar Tilak Ironically some of the most famous sedition trials of the late 19th and early 20th century involved Indian nationalist leaders. Of these, the most well-known are the three sedition trials of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, which were closely followed by his admirers nationally and internationally.

The fundamental moral question that Tilak raised was whether his trials constituted sedition of the people against the British Indian government or of the Government against the Indian people. There are striking similarities between his question and those raised by contemporary targets of sedition law like Arundhati Roy. When faced with the allegation of sedition for speaking at a seminar on Kashmir titled "Azadi: The Only Way" held in Delhi in 2010, Roy issued a public statement In the papers some have accused me of giving 'hate-speeches', of wanting India to break up.

What I say comes from love and pride. It comes from not wanting people to be killed, raped, imprisoned or have their finger-nails pulled out in order to force them to say they are Indians. It comes from wanting to live in a society that is striving to be a just one. Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds. Pity the nation that needs to jail those who ask for justice, while communal killers, mass murderers, corporate scamsters, looters, rapists, and those who prey on the poorest of the poor, roam free."

Tilak's first trial began in 1897. The government claimed that some of his speeches that referred to Shivaji killing Afzal Khan had instigated the murder of the much-reviled Plague Commissioner Rand and Lieutenant Ayerst, another British officer, the following 11 week. The case dealt with Section 4(1) of the Indian Press Act, 1910, that was framed similar to Section 124A.

The relevant provision said that any press used for printing/publishing newspapers, books or other documents containing words, signs or other visible representations that had a tendency to provoke hatred or contempt to His Majesty's government. Or any class of subjects would be liable to have its deposit forfeited.

The Privy Council followed the earlier interpretation of Justice Strachey and confiscated the deposit of Annie Besant's printing press. Thus, the framers of our Constitution were clearly aware of the tainted history of sedition laws and did not want the right to free speech of independent Indians restricted by these draconian provisions. By removing sedition from the terms included in Article 19(2) the Constitution makers signaled their wish to move away from the colonial order where legitimate dissent was denied to Indians.

Indian Perspective
When the Supreme Court specifically laid down that the provisions of section 124A are only made out where there is a tendency to public disorder by use of violence or incitement to violence, for the other interpretation (earlier afforded by the Privy Council) would conflict with the fundamental right under Art 19(1)(a), how is it that so many cases and FIRs continue to be registered against media persons and others for their speeches and writings?

The conviction of Dr. Binayak Sen under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), among other offences, by a trial court in Raipur, and charges of sedition threatened against Arundhati Roy, Varvara Rao and S.A.R. Geelani, who spoke at a seminar titled 'Azadi, the Only Way' organized by the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners in Delhi, have given an urgent new voice to the debate on the relevance of the law on sedition, as media personnel and human rights activists across the country continue to be suppressed by this section.

The particular injustice of convicting a person who has merely exercised his constitutional right to freedom of expression has attracted the nation's attention to the draconian colonial legacy of a hundred- and forty-year-old offence. The truth remains that while the SC has stayed firm in its opinion on sedition from Kadar Nath onwards, the lower courts seem to continuously disregard this interpretation of the law, most recently seen in the verdict against Dr Binayak Sen.

The law on sedition is being used to stem any sort of political dissent in the country, and also any alternate political philosophy which goes against the ruling party's mindset. It is a throwback to the days of British Rule, when the speeches of Tilak and Gandhi used to warrant persecution for they spoke out against the British Rule, but one asks in a country providing a fundamental right to freedom of speech, is such criticism not a right of the individual, so long as it remains within reasonable restrictions?

The charge of sedition law being used to stem dissent is not without force; Binayak Sen, Arundhati Roy, Dr E. Rati Rao, Bharat Desai, Manoj Shinde, V Gopala swamy (Aiko), all these individuals did things far from creating a tendency to incite violence against the state, and were expressing their opinion through speeches or writings which criticized specific activities of the State.

The rampant misuse of the sedition law despite the judicial pronouncement in Kadar Nath's case 5 circumscribing the scope of the law has meant that there is a serious case for repealing this law. The above examples demonstrate that Article 19(1)(a) continues to be held hostage by Section 124A which has indeed proved Gandhi right in being the 'prince of the political sections of the IPC.' There is no justification for a draconian law of this nature, created to squash peaceful and non-violent dissent, to operate in a country, which claims to be the world's largest democracy

While this note has dealt with section 124A of the Indian Penal Code in detail, there are other laws that are related to this section or also criminalize 'disaffection' to the state. This section outlines the gamut of laws that deal with sedition that exist on the statute books.

Indian Penal Code (Ipc), 1960 [1]

Section 124A forms the main section that deals with sedition in the Indian Penal Code. 124A64 carries with it a maximum sentence of imprisonment for life.

Criminal Procedure Code (Crpc), 1973[2]

The CrPC contains section 95 which gives the government the right to forfeit material punishable under section 124A on stating grounds. The section requires two conditions to be fulfilled, (I) that the material is punishable under the mentioned sections (ii) the government gives grounds for its opinion to forfeit the material.

Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (Uapa), 1967[3]

Supporting claims of secession, questioning territorial integrity and causing or intending to cause disaffection against India fall within the ambit of 'unlawful activity' (Section 2(o) UAPA). Section 13 punishes unlawful activity with imprisonment extending to seven years and a fine.

Prevention Of Seditious Meetings Act, 1911[4]

The Seditious Meetings Act, which was enacted by the British a century ago to control dissent by criminalizing seditious meetings, continues to be on our statute books. Section 568 of the Act empowers a District Magistrate or Commissioner of Police to prohibit a public meeting in a proclaimed area if, in his/her opinion, such meeting is likely to promote sedition or disaffection or to cause a disturbance of the public tranquility.

Considering this legislation was specifically enacted to curb meetings being held by nationalists and those opposed to the British, the continuation of this archaic legislation is completely unnecessary and undemocratic.

Judicial Approach
The punishment for sedition under section 124A IPC is an astonishing one with the punishment being entirely disproportional to the nature of the charges. This disparity becomes clear when one looks at the scheme of the Indian Penal Code. This offence has been included in the section on "Offences against the state" as opposed to offence like 'unlawful assembly' and 'rioting' that are included in "Offences against Public Tranquility".

The disparity becomes clear when one compares the maximum punishment for these offences. Section 153A IPC (promoting enmity between religious groups) and section 153B IPC (imputations prejudicial to national integration) have a maximum of three years, and even for committing an offence under section 153B in a place of worship, the maximum punishment still remains five years imprisonment.

Likewise, even other offences in the IPC against public tranquility do not carry as harsh a punishment as the offence of sedition. For instance, the punishment for unlawful assembly under section 143 IPC is imprisonment of either description for a term, which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both. The imprisonment period extends to a maximum of two years when one joins an unlawful assembly armed with a deadly weapon under section 144 IPC or when one joins or continues in an unlawful assembly that has been commanded to disperse under section 145.

Rioting attracts a punishment of imprisonment extending to two years, or fine, or both under section 147 IPC and the imprisonment period extends to a maximum of three years when one is guilty of rioting while being armed with a deadly weapon under section 148 IPC. The disproportionate nature of the punishment associated with sedition makes it difficult for those accused under the section to get bail, and has extremely serious consequences for those convicted under this section

Section 124 A, as it stands today, reads:
Sedition. Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added or with fine.

Explanation 1. The expression "disaffection" includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.

Explanation 2. Comments expressing disapprobation of the measures of the Government with a view to obtain their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.

Explanation 3. Comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section."

Section 95 reads:
Power to declare certain publications forfeited and to issue search- warrants for the same:
  1. Where:
    1. any newspaper, or book, or
    2. any document, wherever printed, appears to the State Government to contain any matter the publication of which is punishable under Section 124-A or Section 153-A or Section 153- B or Section 292 or Section 293 or Section 295-A of the Indian Penal Code, the State Government may, by notification, stating the grounds of its opinion, declare every copy of the issue of the newspaper containing such matter, and every copy of such book or other document to be forfeited to Government, and thereupon any police officer may seize the same wherever found in India and any Magistrate may by warrant authorize any police officer not below the rank of sub-inspector to enter upon and search for the same in any premises where any copy of such issue or any book or other document may be or may be reasonably suspected to be.

Section 2(o) reads:
  1. "unlawful activity", in relation to an individual or association, means any action taken by such individual or association (whether by committing an act or by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise),- which is intended, or supports any claim, to bring about, on any ground whatsoever, the cession of a part of the territory of India or the secession of a part of the territory of India from the Union, or which incites any individual or group of individuals to bring about such cession or secession; or
  2. which disclaims, questions, disrupts or is intended to disrupt the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India; or
  3. which causes or is intended to cause disaffection against India;" Section 13 reads: "Punishment for unlawful activities

  1. takes part in or commits, or
  2. advocates, abets, advises or incites the commission of, any unlawful activity, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.
5. Power to prohibit public meetings:
The District Magistrate or the Commissioner of Police, as the case may be, may at any time, by order in writing, of which public notice shall forthwith be given, prohibit any public meeting in a proclaimed area if, in his opinion, such meeting is likely to promote sedition or disaffection or to cause a disturbance of the public tranquility.

Landmark Cases And Events Of Sedition

  • Kanhaiya Kumar Case 7 (JNU Sedition Event)

    On 9 February 2016, some students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) held a protest on their campus against the capital punishment meted out to the 2001 Indian Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, and Kashmiri separatist Maqbool Bhat. The organizers of the event were former members of the Democratic Students' Union (DSU).

    The event was held despite the University administration withdrawing permission for the event shortly before it was due to begin, due to protests by members of the student union of ABVP. The event saw clashes between various student groups. A video was circulated by Indian news channel Zee news in which a small group of individuals, whom a later investigation described as outsiders to the University wearing masks, shouted "anti-India" slogans.

    The slogans were criticized by many individuals, including political leaders and students of JNU. Delhi Police arrested JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar on charges of sedition and criminal conspiracy, under section 124 of the Indian Penal Code dating back to 1860. It was argued that "The law that Kumar was arrested under had been enacted in 1870, and used by the British Raj to suppress the Indian independence movement." University teachers criticized the arrest as being an "excessive police

    The panel criticized the campus security force for failing to prevent the sloganeering and failing to stop the outsiders from leaving the campus.[3] It also criticized the organizers of the first event for not "acting with due responsibility." The panel stated that "This act by outsiders has brought disrepute to the entire JNU community."
  • As seem Trivedi Case 8 (A Controversial Cartoonist)

    Controversial political cartoonist and activist, Azeem Trivedi, best known for his anticorruption campaign, Cartoons Against Corruption, was arrested on charges of sedition, in 2010. The complaint, filed by Amit Katunayake who is a legal advisor for a Mumbai 8 Zanskar Mhatre v. State of Maharashtra, Crispi 3-2015. 12 based NGO, condemns Trivedi's display of 'insulting and derogatory' sketches, that depicted the Parliament as a commode and the National Emblem in a negative manner having replaced the lions with rabid wolves, during an Anna Hazare protest against corruption, as well as posting them on social networking sites.

    Trivedi's case
    seriously questioned freedom of speech and expression in the country we a young man got arrested for lampooning evident corruption in the country. It's acceptable that some may find his cartoon offensive and in bad taste, but sentencing a person to life in prison for such an act is too extreme.

    The cartoon that Azeem Trivedi allegedly made a cartoon depicting National Emblem of India with 'Three wolves' instead of 'Three lions' and also did show a figure of 'Bharat Mata' being raped by Politician and Bureaucrat. His sedition charges were dropped and he was granted bail on personal bond of Rs. 5000, on the basis of an independent petition by a lawyer.

    Attorney 13 General Darius Khambhat admitted before the HC court that the sedition charges against Trivedi were a "Bonafede knee jerk reaction" to numerous complaints received by the police against cartoons drawn by Trivedi. Proper sedition charges were dropped by the Maharashtra Government on October 12, 2012. It was reiterated by the court that on close inspection of the case, it does not constitute an offence under the definition of Section 124(a) of the IPC
  • Shreya Singhal Case 9 (Technology and Sedition)

    This case is monumental in India's jurisprudence as its judgement took down Section 66A of the IT Act, sought to be in violation of Article 19 (1) of the Constitution of India that guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression to all citizens. A student of law at the time, Shreya Singhal filed a petition in 2012 seeking an amendment in the section 66A, triggered by the arrest of two young girls in Mumbai, for a post on Facebook that was critical of the shutdown of the city after the death of Shiv Senna leader, Bal Thackeray; one of them posted the comment, the other merely 'liked' it.

    What's critical about this judgement is the court's ruling that a person could not be tried for sedition unless their speech, however "unpopular," offensive or inappropriate, had an established connection with any provocation to violence or disruption in public order. In a 52-page judgement, which extensively discussed Indian, English and US jurisprudence on free speech, the Supreme Court struck down Section 66-A of the 9 Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, AIR 2015 SC 1523. Information Technology Act, read down Section 79 of the Information Technology Act and the related rules, and affirmed the constitutionality of Section 69A of the Act.

    The Court control that Section 66-A was obscure and over-broad, and so fell afoul of Article 19(1)(a), since the statute wasn't narrowly tailored to specific instances of speech that it sought-after to curb. The intelligible difference is evident - the net offers anyone a platform which needs little or no payment through that to air his views." whereas the choice of the Supreme Court is of huge significance in protective on-line free speech against arbitrary restrictions.

    Section 66A, that was declared unconstitutional, has continued to be used as a retributory live against on-line speech in several cases. So ,in the modern era, as the constitutional validities have an uprising especially in the context of Fundamental Rights, Law of Sedition has been more contradictory in basic jurisprudence as it clashes with one of the most pivotal right of Free speech and expression.

International PERSPECTIVE
Several formerly colonized countries have retained sedition laws even after their independence from colonial rule. This chapter examines six such countries which have retained these laws, but whose judiciary and civil society actors have been critically engaged in conversations regarding their constitutionality. In these countries, the crime of sedition has either been abolished or the courts have read it down to focus on an extremely narrow range of activities.

In all the cases discussed below, either the judiciary or civil society has recommended the abolition of the crime. While countries like the United Kingdom and New Zealand have abolished the crime of sedition, in the United States and Nigeria, prosecutions for sedition have largely fallen into disuse. Further, in Australia and Malaysia, laws relating to sedition have attracted much criticism.

United Kingdom:

The sedition law in the United Kingdom was abolished in 2009 as it was considered to be a relic of an era where freedom of expression was not considered a right as it is now. Sedition was abolished through the Coroners and Justice Act, 2009, under Gordon Brown's Labor government. Three offences were abolished: the offences of sedition and seditious libel; the offence of defamatory libel; and the offence of obscene libel.

The then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, Claire Ward, said at the time of the act's enactment: "Sedition and seditious and defamatory libel are arcane offences - from a bygone era when freedom of expression wasn't seen as the right it is today". 18 "Freedom of speech is now seen as the touchstone of democracy, and the ability of individuals to criticize the state is crucial to maintaining freedom".

New Zealand:
New Zealand abolished Sedition law on October 24, 2007 when they repealed Crimes Act 1961 after many criticized the law as it hinders freedom of speech and expression against the state. The Law Commission concluded that the seditious offences are "too broad and uncertain" and may be abused by certain parties that may use it to stifle or punish any form of political speech. Prior to abolishing the law, the New Zealand government even provided five specific reasons for repealing the sedition provisions of Crimes Act 1961, namely;
  1. The legal profile of the offence is broad, variable, and uncertain. The meaning of "sedition" has changed over time.
  2. As a matter of policy, the present law invades the democratic value of free speech for no adequate public reason.
  3. Specifically, the present law falls foul of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.
  4. The seditious offences can be inappropriately used to impose a form of political censorship, and they have been used for this purpose.
  5. The law is not needed because those elements of it that should be retained are more appropriately covered by other offences.

In 2005, the government introduced the Anti-Terrorism Bill, which included more protection for the media and leeway for freedom of expression. Despite the fact that there is a new law in place of their sedition act, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) basically states that 'everyone has the right to to their opinion, freedom of expression and right to access to information'.

Suggested Amendments in Sedition Law
Reduction in Punishment
The punishment for a person convicted of sedition should be made more reasonable, by the changing times. Today, with greater freedom of speech and expression and stronger views on the government amongst the masses, the crime of sedition in most cases does not warrant imprisonment up to a life sentence or other such harsh punishments. Also, it is always possible in cases of sedition that the person's words were taken out of context or that they were said in the heat of the moment. Unless the seditious actions have brought concrete damage to another, they should be dealt with more rationally

Disaffection v. Dissent
There should be a clear distinction between what is 'dissent' and what is 'disaffection' in deciding the cases of Sedition. Where considering the moral compass of our society, 'Disaffection' is more likely to bring contempt and hatred among the masses and should be dealt with accordingly. Sedition is, no doubt, a controversial concept; it must be held in a delicate balance with our 'Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression'.

While no citizen should be allowed to spread unnecessary hatred among the masses and incite violence against the Government (especially in a country founded on the principles of non-violence) every citizen should also possess the freedom to express their views on the Government. The interpretation laid down by the Indian courts and the actual implementation of this law sometimes differ, which has led to people labeling the applied law as "draconian".

In an era where the citizens are increasingly aware of their rights and liberties and have a growing sense of duty and responsibility in this democratic system, perhaps it is the perfect time to consider reform in this law

A colonial legacy like sedition law, which presumes popular affection for the state as a natural condition and expects citizens not to show any enmity, contempt, hatred or hostility towards the government established by law, does not have a place in a modern democratic state like India. The case for repealing the law of sedition in India is rooted in its impact on the ability of citizens to freely express themselves as well as to constructively criticize or express dissent against their government. The existence of sedition laws in India's statute books and the resulting criminalization of 'disaffection' towards the state is unacceptable in a democratic society.

These laws are clearly colonial remnants with their origin in extremely repressive measures used by the colonial government against nationalists fighting for Indian independence. The use of these laws to harass and intimidate media personnel, human rights activists, political activists, artists, and public intellectuals despite a Supreme Court ruling narrowing its application, shows that the very existence of sedition laws on the statute books is a threat to democratic values.

Sedition in the context of India still a very required law, but with its fair share of amendments. The law thigh sometimes has been upheld in a righteous manner; manner times has been used to curb the voices of dissent as well. Governments have used to the law to keep the tongues and hands of many artists, journalists and political activists in check and sometimes in a very negative way indeed. But Sedition act does have its own perks.

If used and amended judicially, Sedition law can be considered as poignant tool to create proper checks and balances in the society, which is politically driven and just sometimes forgets about the duties that comes with the fundamental rights given. No doubt Sedition in its today's definition does mercilessly cut and clashes with the Freedom of Speech and Expression, but while it does that, it somewhere keeps a reasonable notion to speak wisely in concurrence to moral decency and public order

  • For definitions and introduction -
  • W.R. Donoghue- A Treatise on the Law of Sedition and Cognate Offences in British India
  • R. Dhaval. - Only the Good News: On the Law of the Press in India
  • A.G., Noor ani - Indian Political Trials
  • Constituent Assembly of India Part I Vol. VII, 1-2 December 1948
  • Parliamentary Debates of India, Vol. XII, Part II
  • The Law Commission Report
  • L.W. Maher, The Use and Abuse of Sedition
  • The Law Commission, Treason, Sedition and Allied Offences
  1. Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1960
  2. Criminal Procedure Code (Crpc), 1973
  3. Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (Uapa), 1967[3]
  4. Prevention Of Seditious Meetings Act, 1911

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