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Transcript: Voice of Russia radio program 26 September 2011 wrote:
Audio: http://english.ruvr.ru/data/2011/09/27/1257565710/Rob%20Sachs_Religious%20Freedom%20Part%201_092611.mp3You're listening to the Voice of Russia. I'm Rob Sachs.
Each year, the US State Department releases its annual report on International Religious Freedom. This year's report encompasses a hundred and ninety-eight countries and territories and details areas in the world where citizens still struggle to practice their religion without state intervention. We wanted to talk about the findings of the report and focus on some of the criticisms of Russia. To that end, we've invited to the program Professor Thomas Farr. He's the director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, and he is also a Visiting Associate Professor of Religion and International Affairs at Georgetown University.
Also on the line with us is Alexander Dvorkin. He's a professor of Church History and Cultic studies at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University in Moscow. He's also the Director of the Council of Experts for Conducting State Religious Studies within Russia's Ministry of Justice. Welcome to you both.
Prof. Dvorkin: Hello.
Prof. Farr: Thanks for having me.
Rob Sachs: So, Thomas Farr, let's start with you. What are some of the highlights of this report?
Prof. Farr: Well, this report is a sort of transition report. The State Department has been doing this now for eleven years and they're changing the dates that it's being covered. So this is only a six-month report. It is the first one issued under the new Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom. And I think there are no major surprises in the report. It identifies, or they have identified along with it, I think it's eight of the so-called countries of particular concern, which are the major persecuting countries around the world. Those, I believe I’m correct, have not changed from the last time these were identified. I might note that while the report indicates that religious freedom has deteriorated in Russia, Russia is not on the list of serious violators, and so I think those are the major points.
Rob Sachs: Alexander Dvorkin, what's your reaction to this report?
Prof. Dvorkin: Well of course I have read only the Russia's part. I should say for one thing it’s very sloppily done. It was, you know, I suppose people who've done it have done a very bad job, even in terms of terminology. Because, you know, the terminology is criss-crossed, and they use very different terms for the same phenomena and for the same, like, geographical names or for the same officials.
Then, of course, many of the so-called violations which are listed there are repeated several times in different parts of this report. I suppose it's just, you know, to show the mass quantity of violations. So the same thing is repeated over and over.
And, of course, while I have a lot of complaints about what is said there, otherwise there is a lot of partiality in it and a lot of bias, because, basically there are two or three reporters, whose reports are used and whose findings are used to compile this report. For example, so-called "Slavic Center of Law and Justice." And it seems, you know, those people who are not familiar with this group or this organization that it's something coming from Russia. But in fact, Slavic Center of Law and Justice is just dependency or a branch of American Center of Law and Justice, which is founded and funded by Pat Robertson, which, of course, is a very biased person, and sort of, you know, it has a biased opinion.
Also, it quotes portal-credo. ru, which belongs to a small schismatic group, which is very, very much anti-Orthodox Church. So, basically, those two sources are used throughout the report to prove that there is persecution of various religious groups in Russia.
And I have some questions to Professor Farr, but I suppose that is a bit later. But that is my opinion about the report.
Rob Sachs: I want to ask you, Professor Farr, about the methodology of the report and those who are doing the reporting. What was the criteria for those who were criticizing the different countries and for looking at it, and are there perhaps some flaws in the methodology?
Prof. Farr: Well, of course, the... Before I answer that, let me situate myself a little bit as to where I stand on this report. I was part of the State Department when the law was passed back in the late 90's and was involved in structuring the report, which has changed a bit over time. And so, my own position is that I am a supporter of the policy, but a rather consistent critic of the State Department and the way that it has carried out the policy.
Now to answer your question, the way the reports are done is not to rely on outside groups, whether a Pat Robertson or anyone else, but to use the American Embassy and its contacts, both within a given government, in this case the Russian Government —
Prof. Dvorkin: But Prof. Farr, you know that throughout this report, exactly Slavic Center of Law and Justice, you've quoted as a reliable source. ...and that is Pat Robertson.
Prof. Farr: I would say, Mr. Dvorkin, that the fact that a group happens to be a branch from an American group is not, in and of itself, disqualifying. In fact, the report comes from America. So the question isn't who is behind it, but whether the facts are correct. I think you would agree with that, and perhaps we should talk about that. Of course, mistakes can be made, they have been made, will be made. I would urge you to contact directly the Office of Religious Freedom with those factual criticisms, and I can assure you they will take them into account, and I can put you in touch with them.
Rob Sachs: Well, let's get into some of the factual criticisms. The report says that the restrictions on religious freedoms in Russia fell into four categories. One was registration of religious organizations. Two, access to places of worship. Three, visas for foreign religious personnel and, Four, government raids on religious organizations and detentions of individuals.
Alexander Dvorkin, do you dispute that these are some of the things that happened in Russia?
Prof. Dvorkin: Well, some things did happen, but, of course, whatever is said there is grossly exaggerated, and a lot of things really, you know, are not reliable. Of course, you know, we don't have the time to discuss every case, so I have to propose a little different approach.
Because it seems that the US is obviously having difficulty in getting Russia to accept its view on social religious issues. And the simple reason for this is because the US lacks credibility on this.
The US yearly reports on religious freedom on every country on Earth except the US itself. Of course, they must cost millions for the US taxpayers. And the question is, you know, why it’s done? And why, you know, the millions are spent.
And then the test cast to help the [inaudible] the US sincerity or hypocrisy is the case of Scientology. In Russia, we want our citizens, our churches, our schools, our government, our judges, our juries, our witnesses, our accused, our families, everyone to be able to speak freely about Scientology. And why on Earth the United States does not want the freedom for all those people or institutions, in the US itself? Why does American government not conduct hearings about the nature and the facts of what [it] is exporting, that is, Scientology?
Why has Scientology in the US became undiscussable in legal proceedings? Why are people intimidated into silence about Scientology?
And then I have two short test cases for this freedom of people everywhere, is Scientology versus Gerry Armstrong case, and I'll tell to our listeners Gerry Armstrong is a Canadian who was a member of Scientology for twelve years, then he left Scientology and, as a result of a court case in California, he was prohibited to speak about Scientology, even to pronounce the names, like "Scientology," "L. Ron Hubbard," "Dianetics," etc. And if he just says it, he has to pay $10,000 for each utterance.
And the same, and, you know, it’s actually in a court decision, it’s applied to all people who are acting in concert with him. Mr. Armstrong has been a guest in Russia. Several months ago, he was invited by the Minister of Justice. He was invited by the Russian Orthodox Church. He was invited by several universities to speak, and, I suppose, do all these institutions, obviously, then, they act in concert with him, do all they have to pay $10,000 each.
And the second short case was accepted in the, well, just less than two years ago, in August 2010, California court, about Claire Headley who was a member of Scientology and left —
Prof. Farr: We're no longer talking about Russia?
Rob Sachs: Alexander Dvorkin, you were bringing up a lot of things about Scientology that you felt were hypocritical for the United States to be bringing up, and also you questioned why the United States was issuing all these reports on all these 198 different countries and territories, but failed to look at —
Prof. Dvorkin: Except the United States itself.
Rob Sachs: Except, right. So, I wanted to pose those two questions to Thomas Farr to have him address those.
Prof. Farr: Sure, those are great questions. First, let me point out that Mr. Dvorkin declined to answer your question about Russia. I'm happy to defend the US report — I mean the US policy on religious freedom. First, let me say the United States is not perfect. Scientology is a —
Prof. Dvorkin: Well, so where is the report about the state of religious freedom in the United States? Where is this report?
Rob Sachs: Mr. Dvorkin, I believe Thomas Farr is about to answer that. Let’s give him a chance.
Prof. Farr: Yes, let me answer that. I mean, we're not perfect. I think we've got a pretty good record on religious freedom. Scientology has a great deal of freedom here. It also has an enormous amount of criticism, and if Mr. Dvorkin isn't aware of that, he just needs to google Scientology in the United States. There are people who are great critics. They are heard. They are not intimidated, and the very fact that —
Prof. Dvorkin: Well, Mr. Armstrong is intimidated.
Prof. Farr: Mr. Armstrong has been to Russia, has spoken freely about his experiences. That is religious freedom at work.
Prof. Dvorkin: But he cannot enter the United States.
Prof. Farr: Let me finish please, sir. This is religious freedom at work when people can speak freely about their own religious views and criticize the religious views of others. That is what you cannot do in Russia. Why do the United States —
[Both speaking at the same time]
Prof. Farr: Why does the United States issue such a report? It does it for two reasons. First is a humanitarian reason. People are suffering around the world. There are tens of millions of people who are being violently persecuted because of their religious beliefs, and we want to stand with those people. The second, and they are Muslims, they’re Christians, they’re Hindus, they're Buddhists. It really doesn't matter. The second reason, though, and I think this really gets to your concerns, and I would love to hear you address it.
This is a security problem. Religious freedom has been linked with a positive security, with political, economic and social goods. Russia is a country that is struggling to root its democracy. There's plenty of evidence in history and in modern scholarship to suggest that, if you don't have religious freedom in full for everybody, for every Russian citizen, then you're not going to get democracy right. It just won't work. So this is not the United States wagging its finger at Russia. This is the United States saying, "Hey, why don't you consider the need for this?"
Rob Sachs: Alexander Dvorkin, would you like to respond?
Prof. Dvorkin: Well, I didn't hear the answer why there is no report on the state of religious freedom in the United States too.
Prof. Farr: I'm happy to answer that too.
Rob Sachs: Okay.
Prof. Farr: You don't want your own State Department writing a report on the internal affairs of the United States. But this is a very open country. As I've said, we've got many problems. We've got some challenges to religious freedom. The United Nations has written, the Special Rapporteur has written a report on the United States. Russia is free to criticize the United States, as Mr. Dvorkin is doing, any time it wants. So, you know, the answer is I don't want the State Department, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs writing a report on its own country, but I invite anyone else to do it freely, because we’re an open society. Take a shot.
Prof. Dvorkin: So there is the case of Armstrong, who is not able to enter the United States, and according to the US court cannot say the word "Scientology" publicly. There is the case of Claire Headley, who just lost a court case against Scientology in California
Prof. Farr: Wait a minute, Mr. Armstrong, the court said —
Prof. Dvorkin: — and the court said that Scientology has the right to lock people up. Scientology has the right to chase them and to return them if they escape. Scientology has the right to deprive them of food and of sleep. Scientology has the right to force them to do the abortions —
Prof. Farr: I would challenge you to back that up. I can’t dispute it, because I don't know the case, but I suspect it is absolutely uncorrect and if Mr. Armstrong is saying a US court —
Prof. Dvorkin: It’s in front of me. This case is in front of me. It’s United States District Court —
[Both speaking at the same time]
Prof. Farr: — I think it’s not true.
Rob Sachs: Gentlemen, I think we’re getting bogged down in this particular case, which —
Prof. Dvorkin: Check it. Check it. It’s —
Rob Sachs: It looks like we're not going to have a set of agreed-upon facts for this particular instance. Gentlemen, we're going to take a quick break in this discussion. You're listening to the Voice of Russia. I'm Rob Sachs along with Jessica Jordan. We're speaking about the State Department annual report on international religious freedom with Alexander Dvorkin of St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University in Moscow. Also on the line is Professor Thomas Farr. He is the Director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.
Rob Sachs: Welcome back to the discussion. We're speaking about the International Religious Freedom Report by the US State Department. We're speaking with Professor Thomas Farr of the Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. Also on the line is Alexander Dvorkin, Professor of Church History and Cultic Studies at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University in Moscow.
I wanted to ask you, Alexander Dvorkin. In Russia, does Scientology receive all the same rights as the Russian Orthodox Church?
Prof. Dvorkin: Of course not, because we do not recognize Scientology as a religion. Just as Germany, democratic Germany, doesn't recognize Scientology as a religion, just as France, democratic France. In fact, democracy was in France before there was United States democracy. So France is the oldest democratic state in Europe, and France doesn't recognize Scientology as a religion. And I hope Russia would never recognize Scientology as a religion.
Prof. Farr: Do you recognize the right of people to join whatever religious group they wish —
Prof. Dvorkin: Absolutely. But religious freedom —
Prof. Farr: — for religious reasons, so long as they do not harm the fundamental rights of others?
Prof. Dvorkin: Yes, absolutely, but religious freedom is an individual freedom. It is the freedom of individuals to choose whatever religion he wants to choose, he or she. Or to leave whatever religion he or she wants to leave. Or not to join any religion at all, but it’s not a right —
Prof. Farr: ...we’re in agreement about that.
Rob Sachs: Let's let Mr. Dvorkin finish his point here.
Prof. Dvorkin: Yes, but religious freedom is not a right of religious corporations to persecute its members —
Prof. Farr: Of course not.
Prof. Dvorkin: — to deprive them of human rights. Well, that’s what we see in the United States. Because United States courts have always or almost always supported the rights of religious corporations against the rights of its own members. And that's not religious freedom.
Rob Sachs: Mr. Dvorkin, what then is the criteria used to distinguish in Russia which is a legitimate religious organization and which one isn't a legitimate organization?
Prof. Dvorkin: Well, we have a Ministry of Justice who registers religious organizations. But no matter whether this or that religious organization is registered or not, some religious organizations in Russia, so-called religious groups, they prefer not to be registered.
Prof. Farr: What about Jehovah's Witnesses, Mr. Dvorkin?
Prof. Dvorkin: What about Jehovah's Witnesses?
Prof. Farr: Do they have complete freedom, the same freedom that members of the Russian Orthodox Church do?
Prof. Dvorkin: Those organizations that are registered, yes, they have the same freedom. But also, there is one in this report, actually, it is good that you reminded me. There is one basic flaw, because one thing is freedom of religion, and one thing is not violation of religious rights, and another thing is granting privileges. Suppose I am a director of a firm, and I have several employees. And I pay each employee whatever salary we've agreed upon. Then I decide that I like one employee and I want to pay him more. I want to raise him. So if I do it, does it mean that I persecute the others? Does it mean that I violate the rights of the others? Not at all. It's just —
Prof. Farr: It does if you believe that equality under the law is the operable principle here.
Prof. Dvorkin: No.
Prof. Farr: And so the answer is Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons, for example —
Prof. Dvorkin: We in the European countries have traditional religious organizations, which in every European country or almost every European country, there are some religious organizations recognized as traditional because they played a very important role in history and in culture of any given country. United States has a different history and so, you know, it's incomparable. Let’s not force United States standards on European countries. So Russian Orthodox Church played an enormous role in Russian history. So if the state grants some privileges to the Orthodox Church, then it's the right of the state. It doesn't mean that other groups are persecuted. The other groups have the basic rights and they are not violated.
Prof. Farr: It does not mean, you're correct, necessarily, that they're persecuted. And I think you're right insofar as you mean, if what you mean is that traditional religions in a state can have certain kinds of acknowledgement in the fundamental documents and so forth. And perhaps even some privilege with respect to tax preferences. But I would suggest to you it becomes very, very difficult —
Prof. Dvorkin: No tax preferences. It’s not [inaudible] in terms of cooperation with the state.
Prof. Farr: — to protect the religious freedom of other [inaudible] —
Rob Sachs: All right, one at a time please.
Prof. Farr: — when you favor one. And I think that's what we're seeing in Russia. I think the Russian Orthodox Church clearly is the traditional church of Russia. But it is having an impact on non-Orthodox individuals, and I think it's hurting Russia. I mean, I think you haven’t seen that.
Prof. Dvorkin: I don't know this fact that Russian Orthodox Church has an impact on non-Orthodox individuals. Perhaps only in the case when non-Orthodox individuals want to convert to Russian Orthodox Church. Then it has an impact. If they freely choose the Russian Orthodox Church. Then it has an impact. But otherwise, no, it doesn't. It's not a state Church of Russia. And so it has no impact.
Prof. Farr: It does if others are not given the same fundamental rights of freedom of religion, both in terms of their private activities, but also in terms of their public activities, their involvement in political life. But what about Mr. Nursi — Said Nursi and his Sunni Muslim group, which, according to this report —
Prof. Dvorkin: What has Russian Orthodox Church have to do with Said Nursi?
Prof. Farr: Well a great deal. If you're privileging one group and the result is that Muslims in your country are not having equal treatment because of the privileging of that group, that would be the answer to your question.
Prof. Dvorkin: No, it has nothing to do with the Orthodox Church. The state has recognized the writings of Nursi as extremist, as calling to religious discord, and this concerns only 0.1% of all Muslims. So all Muslims in Russia —
Prof. Farr: I would suggest to you the treatment —
Rob Sachs: I just want to — Gentlemen, if I could just jump in —
Prof. Farr: of the tiniest minority is very, very important to the health of any democracy.
Rob Sachs: Gentlemen, if I could just jump in and bring up this point that Prof. Dvorkin was bringing up. Thomas Farr, if Russia, you know, does have a legitimate problem with terrorism. Some of these groups have religious affiliations. What's the line between detaining a potentially dangerous individual and restricting a group's religious freedoms?
Prof. Farr: Speech is very important in any democracy, including religious speech. To the extent we see this now in the Organization of the Islamic Conference, I think they've just changed their name, to outlaw defamation of religion. This is a terrible idea. The way you deal with defamation of religion is by defending it with words, not by getting the state involved and throwing them into jail. My point here is not so much a normative point. I think Mr. Dvorkin and I probably agree on a lot more than it sounds like.
What we're really talking about, what is the state involvement, the proper state involvement in a democracy in which the fundamental principle is equality under the law. And I'm just making the argument that all of these groups: Pentecostals, Muslims, Mormons, even Scientologists, the best way to deal with them is by a free market of ideas, not through these restrictive categories of registration, labeling these groups. And, of course, again, let me emphasize, I'm not speaking of acts of violence. I'm speaking of words and ideas and how you deal with them.
Rob Sachs: Well, Alexander Dvorkin, why label Scientologists and Jehovah's Witnesses as an extremist cult? What good does that do the state? Why not, as Thomas Farr was saying, have more ideas out there in the marketplace, instead of restricting them?
Prof. Dvorkin: Well, we are for more ideas, and somehow, but the US and Mr. Farr consider the criticism of Scientology in Russia as being — Scientology or Jehovah's Witnesses — as being the act of violence. Mr. Farr mentioned people thrown in jail. I would like to know, you know, how many religious leaders and groups have been thrown in jail in Russia?
Prof. Farr: According to the report —
Prof. Dvorkin: Compare it, for example, with the great friend of the United States, Saudi Arabia, which is not on the list, or somewhere in a very honorable place on the list where people are publicly executed and where they —
Prof. Farr: I think you're incorrect sir. I believe they are on the "Countries of Particular Concern" list. They have been for many years. And they are now. There is no religious freedom in Saudi Arabia. On that we agree.
Prof. Dvorkin: People are executed , and people are prohibited from converting to Christianity?
Prof. Farr: It's absolutely a scandal, and the report says that.
Prof. Dvorkin: Well, so what about the relationship of the US with Saudi Arabia —
Rob Sachs: So —
Prof. Dvorkin: — a strategic partner.
Rob Sachs: I think maybe we're getting off base with Saudi Arabia, because I think, as Mr. Farr is pointing out, the United States is highly critical of Saudi Arabia. In fact, more critical than it is of Russia, because Russia is not listed among the eight countries of particular concern, though there are things that are concerning to the United States in this report.
But I want to get back to this point you mentioned, not throwing people, you know, Scientologists in jail. However, we did state that there are other restrictions, perhaps not jail time, but access to places of worship, registration of religious organizations, visas for foreign religious personnel, and government raids on religious organizations that have come up...
Prof. Dvorkin: But we have a lot of people who were abused by Scientology. We have a constant stream of phone calls. People who were deprived by Scientology of their livelihood, people whose health was ruined by Scientology, whose families were ruined by Scientology. I have a list of calls for — the same for Jehovah's Witnesses and for other groups. So how do we have to react?
European countries do react in —
Prof. Farr: If you're telling me that Jehovah's Witnesses are violent, I mean, I think that's a bogus [inaudible]
Prof. Dvorkin: Jehovah's Witnesses refused to transfuse blood to him.
Rob Sachs: Okay. Well, let's get to some of those points then, and have — Thomas Farr, why don't you address them? So if, you know, Russia is seeing that there are things that are hurting individuals and that members of religious organizations are hurting individuals, whether it's Jehovah's Witness practice —
Prof. Dvorkin: No, no, not members of religious organizations. Religious organizations itself are hurting individuals.
Rob Sachs: What is then the proper role of the state to react, for instance, if someone in Jehovah's Witnesses denied a blood transfusion, which in the United States is legal, but Russia says, you know, "Our morals are different. We feel like that would be an illegal act." Is that not just a difference in —
Prof. Dvorkin: We are talking about children —
Rob Sachs: Right.
Prof. Dvorkin: We are talking about children.
Rob Sachs: Is that not just a difference in culture?
Prof. Farr: No. I think the United States would... If that's what the issue is, and I question, frankly whether that is all there is to it. But parents are responsible for children. And if somebody lures children away from their parents and prevents them from getting a blood transfusion, if that's what we're talking about, the United States would stand with any country in saying it's the parents that have to be responsible for their children. But that's not typically the problem that you have with Jehovah's Witnesses...
Prof. Dvorkin: But if parents refuse —
Rob Sachs: Let him finish.
Prof. Farr: The problem with Jehovah's Witnesses is that they show up at your door and they want to talk to you. And these people are among the most —
Prof. Dvorkin: The problem with Jehovah’s Witnesses —
Prof. Farr: I don't particularly like the theology. I'm a Catholic. But I'll tell you, they don't use force against people, trick people.
Prof. Dvorkin: Well, the Jehovah’s Witnesses —
Prof. Farr: If there are those cases, prosecute them. But don't write off that religious group because of one or two incidents. That's my response.
Rob Sachs: All right —
Prof. Dvorkin: When Jehovah’s Witnesses had showed at my door, they started out with saying that Orthodox Church is the Babylon Whore. You know, if that's not a religious insult, —
Prof. Farr: Of course it is! [inaudible], Mr. Dvorkin.
Prof. Dvorkin: — and if that's not incitement of religious discord, I don't know what is.
Prof. Farr: It is incitement of religious discord. But it ought not to be illegal. The role of the state in this ought to be to create a free market of religious ideas so a member of the Orthodox Church can respond in kind.
Prof. Dvorkin: Wait a second, Mr. Farr!
Prof. Farr: And that is with words and ideas
Rob Sachs: Okay, well —
Prof. Farr: — not by throwing those people in jail.
Rob Sachs: We just have one minute left, and I just want to get each of your sense of the value in the State Department Report on Religious Freedom. Alexander Dvorkin, we'll start with you. Do you see any value in the type of report like this, critiquing other countries and looking at their religious practices?
Prof. Dvorkin: Well, I can talk only about Russia. But if the US wants to acquire the credibility, it doesn't have to preach religious freedom to others. It must practice what it preaches. The United States must examine Scientology and other groups, and investigate and deal with Scientology versus Armstrong case, and others, and to make it free for everybody to speak about Scientology system and Scientology entity, I think. That's my answer.
Rob Sachs: Thomas Farr, I just have about a minute left. What's your final take?
Prof. Farr: Here's the value of this report. It is not to impose an American system on anyone else, but to get people like Mr. Dvorkin and others to consider that it may be, perhaps not, but it may be in their own interests to widen their own system of religious freedom. Not because the United States says to do it, or the United Nations, or anyone else. But religious freedom is highly associated with the consolidation and rooting of democracy with economic growth, with social stability, with security, with the countering of religion-based terrorism, which I know is a problem with Russia, as it has been in the United States. So, this isn't special pleading for the First Amendment. This is special pleading for human beings and for security and stability that we all seek, and I'm sure Mr. Dvorkin and I agree on that.
Rob Sachs: Well, we're going to have to leave it there. Unfortunately, we're out of time. That was Professor Thomas Farr. He is the Director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. He is also a Visiting Associate Professor of Religion and International Affairs at Georgetown University. We're also joined by Alexander Dvorkin. He's a Professor of Church History and Cultic Studies at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University in Moscow. He's also the Director of the Council of Experts for Conducting State Religious Studies within Russia's Ministry of Justice. Thank you both so much for joining us. We really appreciate it.
Prof. Farr: It's been a pleasure.
Prof. Dvorkin: The same here.
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