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Lawlessness in Police Custody- Custodial Killings in Kashmir

Lawlessness in Police Custody- Police custodial killings in Kashmir have become a lived nightmare for Kashmiris.

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Family of 21-year-old Muslim staging a demonstration outside their residence in Srinagar

An alleged custodial killing in Kashmir yet again. It stirred unrest in the Kashmir valley after 21-year-old Muslim Muneer Lone died in police custody earlier this month. Kashmir’s Srinagar witnessed an appalling demonstration on 10th July by an aggrieved family along with the dead body of a young boy. Muslim was the sole bread earner of his family.

The Jammu and Kashmir police arrested him on 9th July for his alleged involvement in a case of theft. While being in police custody he died the very next day. Muslim’s father Muneer Ahmad Lone was an employee in the Army’s Srinagar Cantonment. His passing away a few years ago plunged his family of a wife and two sons into abject poverty. Muslim had recently purchased a load carrier vehicle, which he used to support his family and earn some money. Muslim’s death has left his mother and an unemployed brother shattered.

The family alleges that Muslim died in police custody due to unknown circumstances. The police, on the other hand, have denied any responsibility for his death. Instead, the police accuse Muslim of being a drug addict and claim that he died due to drug overdose. “During questioning his health condition got worse as he had taken heavy drugs and was not responding well. After that, he was handed over to his family members. They took him to hospital where he had died,” Senior Superintendent (SSP) Rakesh Balwal told Rising Kashmir.

Also, read Police Attach Properties in Kashmir for Harbouring Militants

Died due to Torture in Police Custody, Family Alleges

Muslim’s family has denied the allegations of the police and claim that he died of torture in police custody. “They are trying to cover up the crime. Has the police ever caught him with drugs? There is no police case against him anywhere in Kashmir. They are justifying his death by saying that he was a drug addict. We demand an impartial probe”, alleged Zeeshan, Muslim’s cousin.

Muslim’s fifty-three-year-old mother Shafiqa recalls the occurrences one after the other. Post the arrest of her son, she recalled the insensitive and inhumane behavior of the police officials. “A policeman (name withheld) told me that Muslim was being probed in a case of theft and that they will set him free soon. Had I known that he was going to get killed, I would have never let them enter the house,” said Shafiqa, weeping inconsolably.

Shafiqa reported that the same police crew returned in the afternoon. She claimed that they arrived in a private vehicle with only male police officers present in it. After which they informed her that Muslim had lost consciousness and that she needed to report to the police station. Narrating the horror she said the car came to a complete stop around 15 minutes into the trip. “The policeman instructed me to switch to another vehicle that was parked on the side of the road, where after entering I saw Muslim lying unconscious on the middle seat”, she said.  While opening the knot of her scarf she shows Rs 400 which she said the police had given her. After making her sign some paperwork the police took them to their residence instead of rushing them to the hospital. 

The police authorities are unclear on why they didn’t take a detainee who lost consciousness straight to the hospital. After rushing her son to the hospital, the doctors declared him brought dead.

Read here India Bans Falah-e-Aam Trust (FAT) schools in Kashmir

The Cycle of Custodial Killings in Kashmiris

On March 17, 2019, Indian security personnel took a young school principal from his home in south Kashmir’s Awantipora area. People in the Valley learned of his passing three days after his arrest. The 29-year-old school teacher Rizwan “died in police custody,” according to a statement released by the state police. They took Rizwan to the dreadful ‘Cargo’. Cargo is an infamous detention center in Srinagar that bears testimony to Kashmir’s brutal past of torture and custodial killings.

Rizwan’s body came in a temporary tent for the funeral service on March 19. Mubashir, Rizwan’s brother said that it was impossible to not notice the injury marks on his brother’s dead body. 

“It was as if a saw was used on him during torture. Pieces of flesh were plucked from his body as if by tongs. I have never seen such brutality in my life. His legs had turned blue due to brutal lashing,” Mubashir told The Quint.

Also, read India Gags-up Media in Kashmir

During a raid in September 2020, the Jammu and Kashmir Police ‘unjustly’ detained 23-year-old Irfan, a resident of Sopore. He also died while in police custody. Irfan’s family claimed that his body had severe injury marks and they suspected foul play by the police. “We don’t expect justice” Irfan’s family said.  

Targetted Custodial Killings of Kashmiris

There have been several incidents of custodial killings of Kashmiris that have taken place outside the valley. Police have targeted Kashmiri students, small shopkeepers, and businessmen and taken them into police custody in different states of India. One such Kashmiri student was Mudasir Kamran, who died in 2013 under mysterious circumstances immediately after being in police custody.

Read here Gendered Violence in Indian Administered Kashmir

Torture as the Defacto Cause of Custodial Killings

According to the Indian National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), there were 14,236 deaths in detention between 2001 and 2010 (1,504 in police custody and 12,732 in judicial custody), or 4.3 deaths on average each day. The majority of fatalities are a direct result of torture during detention. The National Human Rights Commission lacks authority over the armed forces (section 19 of the Human Rights Protection Act (NHRC, 2011)). Therefore, there are not many registered cases of deaths in custody by law enforcement and correctional facilities. These deaths either result from government incompetence about food hygiene standards and denial of medical care, or from illegal, protracted incarceration and torture.

Since the turmoil began with the insurgency in the Kashmir Valley in the 1990s, the Indian government has consistently employed armed force and police to try to get the local populace to submit. It has become a common practice of the police and army officials to detain common Kashmiris in order to identify suspected militants. Since police use suspicion as the reason for an arrest rather than solid proof, they have been abusing their authority and custodial killings have become a lived nightmare for the Kashmiris.

Also, read The Rise of Hybrid Militants in Kashmir

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The Scope of inter-religious pluralism within Islam

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Even though pluralism is a loaded term, its generic meaning suggests a phenomenon of peaceful coexistence between entities of diverse cultural, religious, and political inclinations. It is important to remember that pluralism does not mean the elimination of difference, nor does the word “tolerance” do justice to its intended purpose. Pluralism is not merely tolerating the other but engaging with the beliefs of others with peaceful dialogue and action. The scope of inter-religious puralism within Islam proposes this kind of pluralism.

Also, read Islamic Democracy: Is Democracy Compatible with Islam?

What does Pluralism mean in Islam?

Looking at the subjective meaning of pluralism within the ambit of Islam, the proponents of various Islamic discourses have proposed that pluralism is a pronounced feature of Islam. Many Muslim intellectuals claim that pluralism is central to the fundamental essence of Islam. A convincing case can be made for the presence of a compelling pluralistic ethos within the Islamic scriptures.

In his essay, Reformist Islam in Comparative Perspective, Mehran Kamrava claims that the rise in the level of religiosity amongst Muslims has given rise to other forms of Islam. One of which according to him is “likely to have the most resonating consequences for Islamic jurisprudence in both the near and the distant future” and calls it “intellectual Islam”. He claims that it is through this form of Islam that a Muslim reformist discourse is introduced. Which has produced significant work to locate the place of inter-religious pluralism in Islam. He further derives some themes out of the reformist discourse, very important with their reference to pluralism in Islam:

“First is a deep and abiding conviction in Islam as faith and a system of belief. In its current manifestation, the discourse of reformist Muslim intellectuals does not seek to instrumentalize Islam for purposes of achieving modernity in a manner palatable to the masses at large. Islam is not a means to an end; it is an end in itself. It simply needs to be re-thought and reformulated. The reformists’ reliance on and endless references to the Qur’an bespeaks of the text’s cultural centrality to them.”.

Such display of absolute faith by Muslim reformists whilst having reformist inclinations bespeak of their balanced position. A flexible modern vision can develop interfaith dialogue. The abiding conviction to Islam earns a sense of authenticity for their thought process in the eyes of fellow Muslims.

Read here, Islamophobia: Impacts on Muslim Women

What is Democratic Pluralism?

The next theme of the reformist discourse is “democratic pluralism”: “Pluralism, the reformist discourse’s proponents maintain, is a salient feature of the spirit of the Qur’an and the hadith.” (Kamrava )

To support his claim he cites another Muslim intellectual Abdulaziz Sachedina who quotes:

The challenge for Muslims today, as ever, is to tap the tradition of Koranic pluralism to develop a culture of restoration, of just intrareligious and interreligious relationships in a world of cultural and religious diversity. Without restoring the principle of coexistence, Muslims will not be able to recapture the spirit of early civil society under the Prophet.

In the globalized world, the facets of modernity like its political model of the nation-state have become a governing principle for all ethnic, cultural, and religious pluralism. This means the only larger identity governing the religious identity of the people is that of the nation-state. In the religiously pluralistic society of today, people may have different identities, but the model of the nation-state promises all of them the same status. People might identify with different religious inclinations, but the state identifies them as either citizens or residents of the state. This is exactly the kind of challenge that Sachedina talks about when he implores Muslims to revive the tradition of pluralism that is central to the Islamic texts for peaceful coexistence in the globalized world.

Also, read Why should dignified Muslims never normalize with Israel?

The Case of Muslims living as a minority

If Muslims live in a minority in a nation-state that runs on one of the political models of modernity like democracy or secularism, then for the sake of the welfare of Muslims they need to fulfill the duties that the nation-state demands from them. Andrew March talks about the jurisprudence of Muslim minorities also called Fiqh al-aqalliyyat al-muslima in Arabic:

Fiqh alaqalliyyat tends to be a discourse where departures from traditional Islamic commitments are not seen as desirable, and certainly not goals in and of themselves, but where creative rethinking often occurs in subtle and pragmatic guises. It is thus an important object of study for those interested in the ideal moral encounter between a public religion like Islam and modern/post-modern secularism. (March 6).

Important questions of interest toward non-Islamic institutions have been addressed from within internal Islamic discourses that advocate for a positive Muslim attitude concerning the issue of pluralism.

Read here, How Practical is the Secular Democracy of India? Curbing of Religious Freedom in Kashmir

Islam’s relation with other Faiths

The third theme within the reformist Islamic discourse is “Islam’s relations with other great faiths”. An important aspect central to the Muslim understanding of pluralism is the conception that god’s message in the Quran is universal and that the revelation was made through more than just one prophet, which means that the revelations had multiple manifestations. The basic underpinning for this idea can be seen in the Quran which mentions the monotheistic traditions of Judaism and Christianity. Far from denying the Quran in fact validates that Torah and Bible were predecessor scriptures affirming that their message has come from the same god. Many Quranic verses echo the sentiments which envisage a world where diversified people are united by their pious intentions and mutual devotion to God.

Also, read Islam in 2075: World’s Largest Religion!?

Some Important Milestones in the Islamic History

Apart from the theoretical contributions to promote Islamic pluralism, efficient action has also been taken within the Muslim discourse on a practical level to perpetuate inter-faith harmony.

One such historic step was the “1981 adoption of the Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights, whose article XIII states: Every person has the right to freedom of conscience and worship in accordance with his religious beliefs.”.

Apart from this, another significant step was taken in 1990 when the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam was adopted, Article 1(a) of which states:

“All human beings form one family whose members are united by submission to God and descent from Adam. All men are equal in terms of basic human dignity and basic obligations and responsibilities, without any discrimination on the grounds of race, color, language, sex, religious belief, political affiliation, social status or other considerations. True faith is the guarantee for enhancing such dignity along the path to human perfection.”

Read here, Is This the Ultimate Solution to Rising Islamophobia in India?

Islamic Tradition of Peaceful Coexistence

The Quran recognizes fundamental rights for all humankind whether Muslims or non-Muslims and explicitly forbids compulsion in faith. The Islamic texts also provide a practical model of implementing pluralistic ideals which have greatly affected the treatment of non-Muslims in Muslim lands. Contrary to the Islamophobic stereotypes, Islam not only acknowledges pluralism, but it also goes beyond the reductive concepts of tolerance and intolerance to endorse and encourages a tradition of peaceful coexistence.

Also, read Islamophobia: Impacts on Muslim Women

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The Forgotten Jammu Massacre

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Jammu massacre during the partition of Indian subcontinent

In November 1947, thousands of Muslims were murdered in Jammu by paramilitaries under the command of Maharaja Hari Singh’s army, the Hindu Dogra ruler of Jammu and Kashmir. Although the precise number of victims in the killings that lasted for two months is unknown, estimates range from 20,000 to 237,000. Nearly half a million Muslims were compelled to flee across the border into the recently formed country of Pakistan. These Muslims had to settle in the part of Kashmir that is under Pakistan’s administration. The massacre of Muslims in Jammu and the forced migration of others set off a chain of events that included a war between India and Pakistan, two newly independent countries. These incidents also gave rise to the Kashmir issue. The massacres occurred as part of a British-designed strategy to divide the subcontinent into India and Pakistan, as millions of Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs crossed the border from one side to the other.

An Orchestrated Massacre

Before the two-decade-long massacre against Jammu’s Muslim majority really began, The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leaders from Amritsar met in secret with the Maharaja and his officials. They chose Poonch as the beginning place for the massacre of Muslims because of its record for fierce resistance. A two decade long and horrifying anti-Muslim pogrom began with the murder of a herdsman in the Panj Peer shrine and a Muslim labourer in the centre of Jammu city in the first week of September. Extremist Hindus and Sikhs committed the murders with the help and complicity of the Maharaja Hari Singh-led armies of the Dogra State. The RSS leaders and workers were complicit in organising and carrying out the atrocities.

Idrees Kanth, a fellow at the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam who studied the history of Kashmir in the 1940s, told Al Jazeera that the immediate impact (of partition) was seen in Jammu. “The Muslim subjects from different parts of Jammu province were forcibly displaced by the Dogra Army in a programme of expulsion and murder carried out over three weeks between October-November 1947,”.

The Dogra Army personnel started evicting Muslim peasants from Jammu province in the middle of October. The majority of the refugees were housed in refugee camps in the districts of Sialkot, Jhelum, Gujrat, and Rawalpindi after being directed on foot toward West Punjab, which would eventually become a part of Pakistan.

On November 5, Kanth claimed about the Dogra Army forces’ planned evacuation of Muslims that  “Instead of sending them to Sialkot, as they had been promised, the trucks drove them to wooded hills of Rajouri districts of Jammu, where they were executed.”

Also Read: How Practical is the Secular Democracy of India? Curbing of Religious Freedom in Kashmir

Demographic Changes

After the deaths and expulsion, the Muslims, who made up more than 60% of the population in the Jammu region, became a minority. According to a story from The Times, London, dated August 10, 1948: “2,37,000 Muslims were systematically exterminated – unless they escaped to Pakistan along the border – by the forces of the Dogra State headed by the Maharaja in person and aided by Hindus and Sikhs. This happened in October 1947, five days before the Pathan invasion and nine days before the Maharaja’s accession to India.”.

According to historians, the executions carried out by the Sikh and Hindu ruler’s armies were part of a “state sponsored genocide” to alter Jammu’s demographics, which had a predominately Muslim population.

Reports mention that Muslims who earlier were the majority (61 percent) in the Jammu region became a minority as a result of the Jammu massacre and subsequent migration.

According to PG Rasool, the author of a book The Historical Reality of Kashmir Dispute “The massacre of more than two lakh (two hundred thousands) Muslims was state-sponsored and state supported. The forces from Patiala Punjab were called in, RSS was brought to communalise the whole scenario and kill Muslims.”

Also Read: India Revives Controversial Village Defence Committees (VDCs) in Jammu and Kashmir

Covering up of the Jammu Massacre

While it is unknown how many people were killed during the two-month-long killing spree, Horace Alexander’s report from The Spectator on January 16, 1948, is frequently cited. Alexander claimed that 200,000 people had died and that nearly 500,000 people had been displaced across the border into the recently formed country of Pakistan and the region of Kashmir that it controls.

India has ever since tried to free itself from the accountability of the past. The Jammu massacre has not only been left out of J&K’s historical narratives by the Indian state, but it has also been openly denied in its entirety.

Khurram Parvez, a noted human rights defender in Kashmir, told Al Jazeera that the ongoing conflict in Kashmir has its roots in 1947 massacre. “It is deliberately forgotten. Actually, the violence of that massacre in 1947 continues. Those who were forced to migrate to Pakistan have never been allowed to return,” he said.

Also Read: The Rise of Hybrid Militants in Kashmir

What Does the Jammu Massacre mean for Kashmir today?

The Jammu massacre gave India the opportunity to rewrite history, therefore relieving the Indian government from owning up to any responsibility for the atrocity. The Indian government is attempting to replicate this pattern in the Kashmir valley by systematically killing and exterminating Muslims and then covering it up. As more and more Indians obtain Kashmiri citizenship and are granted the ability to vote in state elections, this provides the necessary motive and encouragement for non-Kashmiris to relocate to Kashmir. While the right-wing BJP government has been milking the targeted killings of Kashmiri pandits in Kashmir. The communal violence against Muslims and the Jammu Massacre is the least talked about and written about in the history of the region.

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Mahsa Amini: Iranian Women Are Leading an Extraordinary Revolution

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The Death of Mahsa Amini Ignited a Wave of Protests Across Iran

The Death of Mahsa Amini Ignited an Unprecedented Wave of Protests Across Iran

On the 16th of September 2022, Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman, died in the custody of Iran’s morality police following her arrest for improper wear of hijab. Both Mahsa and her brother were beaten at the time of her arrest.

Iran’s morality police routinely arbitrarily detain women who do not comply with their discriminatory and compulsory veiling laws. The death of Mahsa Amini was the powder keg moment that ignited this most recent uprising resulting in seven weeks of protests. This has been the most significant threat the theocratic Iranian regime has witnessed since the 1979 revolution.

It is becoming apparent that this isn’t about reform; it’s about outright regime change. In the eyes of the Islamic Republic, the compulsory hijab is not just a mere piece of cloth. The hijab is one of the critical pillars of the ideology of this regime.

Women are protesting on the streets, removing their hijabs and setting them on fire while cutting their hair in protest. Many have been arrested and sent to psychological re-education centres, beaten, raped, and murdered. The most unprecedented part of these protests is that they’ve been led by women. This shows how courageous Iranian women are in leading an extraordinary revolution.

The Death of Mahsa Amini Ignited an Unprecedented Wave of Protests Across Iran
Caption: An Iranian woman holds a piece of her hair she cuts off, during a protest outside the Iranian Consulate following the death of Mahsa Amini, in Istanbul, Turkey. 26 September 2022. EPA-EFE/SEDAT SUNA.

Hundreds Have Been Brutally Murdered By Iranian Police After Masha Amini’s Death

The Islamic Republic does not allow its citizens the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. This right is guaranteed under Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Instead, the Islamic Republic kills protesters with batons and bullets. As of the 8th of November 2022, the death toll from the Islamic Republic’s crackdown on Iran’s 2022 protests increased to 304 people, including 41 children and 24 women. Repressive regimes lack transparency, so the actual number of protesters killed often goes vastly underreported.

Read also: Death of Mahsa Amini: How Governments Deny Women’s Right to Choice?

A Long History of Women’s Resistance in Iran

Mahsa Amini’s death follows decades of women’s resistance in Iran. Women played a critical role in Iranian society by establishing women’s associations, joining protests and supporting strikes. This is the first time since the inception of the theocracy in 1979 that people openly and fearlessly oppose Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Challenging Iran’s supreme leader is one of the most significant revolutions in modern-day history.

Following the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iranian women launched massive protests after hearing rumours regarding a mandatory hijab mandate. These protests were influential as they postponed its enactment. However, the mandate was eventually instated in 1983. Women showed their strength in actively protesting against the regime.

Comparatively, in recent times the enormous bravery of women like Sepideh Rashno, Mahsa Amini and Nika Shakarami against Iran’s restrictions on women’s rights has sparked a catalyst for change. The Iranian authorities have consistently dealt with waves of mass protests. Including those held in November 2019, January 2020, July 2021, August 2021, November 2021 and May 2022, with a militarized response.

The Establishment of the Woman-Life-Freedom” Movement

Following the death of Mahsa Amini, Iran has seen the rise of the “Women, Life, Freedom Movement”. This is a widespread protest that has now entered its fourth week. The movement’s slogan is a declaration of opposition to the Islamic Republic, a regime built on anti-woman, pro-martyrdom, and repressive ideologies.

Thousands of Iranians protest against the Islamic regime’s repressive treatment and continuous human rights violations. Iranians are speaking up against the regime carrying signs saying “Death to the dictator”. Young schoolgirls chanted, “we don’t want the Islamic Republic.” In recent weeks, Iranians have been actively fighting against security forces while tearing down billboards and burning pictures of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini.

Although the protests initially started over the frustration of the mandatory hijab, they developed into representing a much broader movement of overthrowing the entire regime. These restrictions have intensified under President Raisi, who took office in August 2021, leading to further tension among Iranians.

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Gender Gap Report, Iran ranks 143 of 146 countries. The Islamic Republic exemplifies why countries with gender-discriminatory laws experience the most significant turmoil, compromising international peace and security.

The Islamic Republic Detained Thousands of Protesters and Activists

Thousands of protesters and human rights activists are now facing unfair trials, with some facing the risk of the death penalty for protesting against Mahsa Amini’s death.

Human Rights Watch has reported on security forces’ unlawful use of excessive or lethal force. Moreover, on October 31, 2022, the Tehran Province’s judiciary held that it had issued approximately 1,000 indictments against protesters and activists.

Furthermore, the Iranian authorities have subjected detainees to various forms of physical and psychological torture and other ill-treatment. Two female detainees arrested in Kurdistan reported that Iranian police tortured them with batons, electric shocks, sexual and verbal assault, and threats.

“Iran’s vicious security apparatus is using every tactic in its book, including lethal force against protesters, arresting and slandering human rights defenders and journalists, and sham trials to crush widespread dissent,”

Tara Sepehri Far, senior Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Iranian authorities have arrested 308 university students and 44 children. Security forces have targeted universities with excessive use of force and arbitrarily detained students.

According to the Human Rights Activists News Agency, the protests have reached 133 cities and 129 universities, as well as several secondary schools.

International Response to Iran’s Uprisings

Solidarity protests in support of Iranian women’s rights have erupted across Europe, the United States, and parts of the Middle East.

The Death of Mahsa Amini Ignited an Unprecedented Wave of Protests Across Iran
Caption: Supporters hold posters with the image of Mahsa Amini outside the United Nations in New York © Stephanie Keith/Getty Images.

According to Amnesty International, more than one million people across 218 countries have signed their petition. This petition demanded an establishment of an independent UN mechanism to conduct an investigation in Iran. Therefore, this would ensure Iran faces the consequences for committing some of the most serious crimes listed under international law.

Failing to establish accountability encourages impunity, further emboldening the Iranian authorities to continue to intensify human rights violations. The United Nations Human Rights Council should urgently hold a special session on Iran.

Read also: The US and Israel are Weaponizing Iran Protests.

Concluding Thoughts

The protests over Mahsa’s death and the officials’ refusal to be held accountable have resulted in frustration and resentment over the political status quo. This has increased demands for democracy.

It takes immense courage and bravery for any woman to participate in this extraordinary revolution happening in Iran. Young girls risk arrest, school expulsion, and death when exercising their freedom of expression.

The world’s silence on this issue enables continued human rights abuses in Iran. The international community must stand up against the Islamic Republic and demand its adherence to binding human rights obligations.

Politics, money and states’ interests continue to come before human rights. The United Nations has repeatedly failed to adequately address human rights violations committed by authoritarian regimes. Despite this, we must rebuild our trust in this global governance mechanism. The United Nations intends to protect states regardless of geographical borders, race, religion, ethnicity, gender or social class.

This begs the question; will the United Nations stand with the women of Iran in upholding their human rights?

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