THAILAND: Octogenarian writer and activist faces 15-year prison sentence

Sulak Sivaraksa

PEN International is deeply concerned by reports that renowned writer and activist Sulak Sivaraksa is facing trial for violating article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code (lèse majesté) in a connection with a speech he gave at Thammasat University in 2014. PEN International believes that the charges against Sivaraksa are directly linked to his peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression and calls for the charges against him to be dropped immediately and unconditionally.

Take action!

Please send appeals:

*   Calling for the charges against writer and activist Sulak Sivaraksa to be dropped immediately and unconditionally;
*   Urging the authorities to amend the Criminal Code to ensure that it meets Thailand’s international legal obligations to protect freedom of expression, including by decriminalising lèse majesté (article 112 of the Criminal Code) and defamation and insult (articles 326-333 of the Criminal Code);
*   Urging the authorities not to subject civilians to military court proceedings.

Appeals to:

Prime Minister
General Prayut Chan-o-cha
Royal Thai Government
Government House
1 Pitsanulok Road,
Dusit, Bangkok 10300,
Fax: +66 (0) 2282 5131
E-mail: prforeign [at] gmail [dot] com
Salutation: Dear Prime Minister

Minister of Justice
Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana
Government Centre Building A
120 Moo 3
Chaeng Wattana Road Soi 7, Lak Si
Bangkok 10210, Thailand
Fax: +66 29530503
Salutation: Dear Minister

Copies to:
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Mr. Don Pramudwinai
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand,
Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
443 Sriayudhya Road,
Thung Phaya Thai Sub-district,
Bangkok, 10400
Fax: 0-2643-5320; 0-2643-5314
Email: minister [at] mfa.go [dot] th
Salutation: Dear Minister

Please also send copies of your appeals to the Thai Embassy in your country.. Contact details for embassies can be found here.

****Please contact this office if sending appeals after 7 December 2017. Please send us copies of your letters or information about other activities and of any responses received.****

PEN members are encouraged to publish articles and opinion pieces in national or local press highlighting the case of Sulak Sivaraksa and the situation of freedom of expression in Thailand.

Sulak Sivaraksa, aged 85, is a well-known social critic and the author of at least 100 books and monographs published in Thai and English addressing Thai society and culture, including Conflict, Culture, Change: Engaged Buddhism in a Globalising World; Seeds of Peace: Buddhist Vision for Renewing Society; Loyalty Demands Dissent: Autobiography of an Engaged Buddhist, among other titles. A proponent of ‘engaged Buddhism,’ which ‘integrates the practice of Buddhism with social action for a healthy, just, and peaceful world,’ according to the International Network of Engaged Buddhists – an organisation which he co-founded in 1989 – Sivaraksa has founded many civil society organisations and cultural initiatives. Sivaraksa has reportedly twice been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (1993 and 1994), and is the recipient of the 1995 Right Livelihood Award, as well as the 2011 Niwano Peace Prize, awarded to those who promote peace through interreligious cooperation. He has twice fled the country to live in self-imposed exile (first in 1976-1977 and later in 1991-1992). According to media reports, Sivaraksa sees dissent as an essential part of his loyalty to his nation.

On 9 October 2017, Sivaraksa was reportedly taken before a military tribunal and informed that an almost three-year investigation into allegations of lèse majesté had been concluded. He was reportedly released the same day and told that military prosecutors would decide on whether to proceed with the case at a hearing on 7 December 2017. Should the case against him proceed, Sivaraksa could face up to 15 years in prison.

The charges reportedly relate to a speech that Sivaraksa delivered in October 2014 at an academic discussion held at Thammasat University in which he questioned whether a 16th Century elephant battle between the Thai King Naresuan and the Burmese Crown Prince Mingyi Swa had actually occurred. At the time of his speech, King Naresuan was the subject of an epic film being promoted by the military junta. Sivaraksa reportedly urged the audience “not to easily believe in things. Otherwise they will fall prey to propaganda.” The charges against Sivaraksa were initially filed on 16 October 2014 by two lieutenant generals. King Naresuan is regarded as a national hero by the Thai military; indeed, the National Armed Forces day marks the date of the battle.

Sivaraksa has faced charges of lèse majesté on several occasions previously in relation to his speeches and writings. In each case, he was either acquitted or the charges were dropped, according to Thai Political Prisoners. The current charges against Sivaraksa are particularly unreasonable as they do not relate to the ruling monarch, but that of a monarch who reigned from 1590-1605.

Thailand’s lèse majesté laws which are among the strictest insult laws in the world have remained unchanged since 1908. Article 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code states that “whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir to the throne or the Regent shall be punished with imprisonment of three to 15 years.”

PEN International urges the authorities to amend the Criminal Code, in particular the lèse-majesté law and the articles that criminalise defamation and insult, to ensure that it meets Thailand’s international obligations to protect freedom of expression. UN human rights mechanisms have repeatedly clarified that criminal defamation and insult laws, including lèse-majesté laws, are incompatible with international standards on free expression.  In 2011, the then UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression Frank La Rue called on Thailand to reform its lèse-majesté laws. He said, “The threat of a long prison sentence and vagueness of what kinds of expression constitute defamation, insult, or threat to the monarchy, encourage self-censorship and stifle important debates on matters of public interest, thus putting in jeopardy the right to freedom of opinion and expression.”  They are also not in line with Articles 9 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a state party.

Yemen: prominent writer release after quashing his death sentence

*Update #1 to RAN 08/17*

*Available also in Arabic*


16 September 2017 – PEN International welcomes news of the release of prominent Yemeni journalist and writer Mohammad *Yahya al-Jubaihi*, who was recently pardoned by the Supreme Political Council in Sana’a. According to the pardon decision, the death sentence issued by the court in Sana’a on 12 April 2017 against the writer was abolished and his release was ordered. On 24 September 2017, al-Jubaihi was released after being detained by Houthi forces for almost one year.

PEN International has been calling for Yahya al-Jubaihi’s death sentence to be quashed and for his release. We continue to call for the release of all writers and journalists who are unfairly imprisoned in Yemen, in violation of their right to freedom of expression and opinion.

Yahya al-Jubaihi, 61 years-old, is a writer and journalist. He is member of the Arab Journalists’ Association and Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate. He published research studies and articles and wrote regular columns in many Yemeni and other Arabic newspapers such as /Okaz /and /al-Madina/. Of particular note is an article published in December 2015 in which he sharply criticized the Houthi raids and invasions of some regions in Yemen. According to news reports, the article led to his arrest and conviction. Al-Jubaihi studied media at King Saud University in Saudi Arabia and obtained a Master’s degree in International Media in 1986 from the US Indiana University. He worked as media director at the Council of Ministers in Yemen between 1987 and 1997 and lectured “media and development” at the University of Sana’a/Faculty of media.

On 6 September 2016, Al-Jubaihi was arrested by Houthi uniformed security agents in front of his house in Yemeni capital Sana’a; they also broke into his home and confiscated his electronic devices, books and other documents. According to his family, Al-Jubaihi was transferred to several prisons and detentions centres before being sentenced to death on 12 April 2017 by a Houthi rebel court in Sana’a. According to news report, the verdict was issued without respect for the principles of fair trial, his lawyers were not allowed to meet Al-Jubaihi or to attend the hearing and the judgment was handed down in only one hearing. Al-Jubaihi was found guilty of spying for a foreign country (Saudi Arabia) and helping the rival President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi who resigned in January 2015 after pressure from Houthis. Before being arrested in September 2016, Al-Jubaihi had received anonymous threats and was asked to write an article supporting Houthi presence in Sana’a, which he refused. During his detention, Al-Jubaihi was denied access to medical care despite being in poor health.

The situation for freedom of expression and opinion in Yemen has declined sharply since 2014, following the Houthis’ invasion of Sana’a. Many journalists have been forced to flee the country. The Committee to Protect Journalists considered Yemen to be the third most dangerous place in the world for journalists in 2016.

Uzbekistan: Immediately and unconditionally release independent journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev

PEN International is extremely concerned about the well-being of Uzbek journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev, who was detained by the National Security Services in Tashkent on 27 September 2017. Abdullaev is detained at the notorious pre-trial detention centre of the National Security Services, which has a long, harrowing track record of torture. Abdullaev has not had access to legal counsel, and has only seen his wife once, briefly, on 1 October.

PEN International believes that Abdullaev is detained solely on the basis of his journalistic work. There are growing fears that he is being tortured.

Take Action – share on Twitter, Facebook and other social media

Send appeals to Uzbekistan’s authorities, urging them to:

–        Immediately and unconditionally release journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev, and drop the criminal charges against him;

–        Protect Abdullaev from torture and ill-treatment pending release, including by ensuring access to adequate medical treatment, legal counsel of his choice and his family;

–        Investigate and provide redress for his incommunicado detention; and,

–        Respect the right to freedom of expression, which includes ensuring that journalists can work without fear of reprisals and free from harassment.

Write to:

Rustam Inoyatov
Chairman of the National Security Service
9 Matbuotchilar Street

Ihtior Abdullaev
Prosecutor General
Prosecutor General’s Office of Uzbekistan
Ul. Gulyamova 66
Tashkent 700047
Fax: +998 71 133 3017
Email: prokuratura [at] lawyer [dot] uz


Bobomurod Abdullaev is an independent journalist and well-known sports reporter and football commentator. He also writes political analysis under a pseudonym and has contributed to international media organisations, including his participation as an independent expert in discussions on Ozodlik, the Uzbek service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. He set up the media rights organisation Ozod Ovoz (‘Free Voice’) and worked as a correspondent for the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting and for Internews International.

Abdullaev disappeared on the afternoon of 27 September 2017 while running an errand. His family was not aware of his whereabouts until 29 September, when they discovered that he had been arrested by the National Security Services and is being held at the Security Services’ pre-trial detention centre. On that same day, the National Security Services also searched Abdullaev’s home for over five hours, confiscating media equipment and books. On 1 October, the Yunusabadskiy District Criminal Court in Tashkent in camera ordered his detention on charges of preparing and disseminating online materials in an attempt to overthrow the constitutional order of the state (Article 159 of the Criminal Code), based on the allegation by the National Security Services that he was working together with Muhammad Salih, an exiled opposition leader. Abdullaev faces up to 20 years’ imprisonment if convicted. The Court ordered to remand him in the Security Services’ detention centre. Abdullaev has only once, briefly, seen his wife since he was detained, and has no access to legal counsel.

The right to freedom of expression is severely restricted in Uzbekistan. Human rights defenders and independent journalists are frequently subjected to harassment and intimidation, including arrests, beatings and smear campaigns against them.

As documented by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others, torture is endemic in Uzbekistan. Individuals charged with or convicted of anti-state or terrorism-related crimes have been particularly vulnerable both in pre-trial detention and post-conviction. The courts rely heavily on ‘confessions’ obtained through torture to secure convictions, and a climate of impunity prevails for the alleged perpetrators because of the lack of an effective, independent complaints mechanism.

For further details contact Laurens Hueting at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 Fax +44 (0) 20 7405 0339, email: laurens.hueting [at] pen-international [dot] org

Egypt: ongoing arbitrary detention and serious health concerns of prominent Egyptian writer

PEN International is deeply concerned about the well-being of Hesham Gaafar, a prominent Egyptian writer and the head of Mada Foundation for Media Development (MADA). Gaafar has been arbitrary detained since 21 October 2015, when dozens of armed agents from Egyptian security service raided MADA’s offices and arrested Gaafar before detaining him for several days at an undisclosed location. He has been held in pre-trial detention mainly at Tora prison since then, and his family is only allowed to visit him sporadically. Gaafar’s health is seriously deteriorating since his arrest due to the poor conditions of detention and the lack of access to adequate medical care.

PEN International believes that Gaafar’s detention is related to his writing and civil society activism and calls for his immediate and unconditional release, as well as immediate access to adequate medical treatment and improvement of his conditions of detention. The Egyptian authorities should also fully respect Gaafar’s right to freedom of expression and opinion.

TAKE ACTION! Share on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

Send appeals to the Egyptians authorities:

·       Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of writer and journalist Hesham Gaafar;

·       Urging them to end the prosecution and drop the criminal charges against Gaafar;

·       Urging them to ensure that he has full access to family visits, legal representation and adequate medical care whilst detained;

·       Urging them to ensure that the right to freedom of expression in Egypt is fully respected in law and practice as provided for under the Egyptian Constitution and under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a state party.

Please send appeals:

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi,
Office of the President,
al-Ittihadia Palace,
Cairo, Arab Republic of Egypt,
Fax: +202 2 391 1441
Email: p.spokesman [at] [dot] eg

Moh_moussa [at] [dot] eg
Salutation: Your Excellency

Minister of Justice
Mohamed Hossam Abdel Rahim
Ministry of Justice,
Lazoghly Sq.,
Fax: +202 2 795 8103
Email: mjustice [at] [dot] eg
Salutation: Dear Minister

Minister of Interior
Magdy Abdel Ghaffar,
Ministry of Interior,
Fifth Settelment, New Cairo,
Fax: +202 2794 5529
Email: center [at] [dot] eg
Salutation: Dear Minister

Please inform PEN of any action you take, and of any responses you receive.


–        Publications and work activities
Hesham Gaafar is a well-known writer, journalist, and political researcher. He is a leading political expert and founder of several regional NGOs including the Centre for Mediation and Dialogue and the Mada Foundation for Media Development (MADA), which is a local private media company promoting, among others, dialogue in the Egyptian society. He is also a member of Egypt’s press syndicate. Gaafar has consulted for many international and national organisations such as the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD), UNICEF, and the Egyptian National Population Council. He also worked as an editor-in-chief for many Arabic magazines and scientific journals, including IslamOnline, and “Thought Harvest”, which is a monthly cultural publication. Gaafar has also chaired several consultations focusing on interreligious and women’s issues within the Egyptian society, one of which led to the adoption of the al-Azhar declaration for women rights from an Islamic perspective in 2012.
Gaafar is the author of many books and articles about political issues, Islam, women and governance in Egypt. For instance, in one of his books on the political dimensions of the concept of Governorship in Islam he presents a deep study about this concept in Islam from both a historical and a contemporary perspective. He has also contributed to many publications, such as “The crises of Muslim Brotherhood“, in which he describes and critiques the Muslim Brotherhood’s role in Egypt’s professional syndicates.

–        Arrest and charges
On 21 October 2015, agents of the Egyptian security forces raided MADA’s offices in the 6th of October City and arrested Gaafar. They confiscated all his electronic devices as well as work and personal documents. They also detained the Foundation’s employees, including researchers and writers, for a period up to 12 hours and confiscated hundreds of computers and other electronic devices owned by the Foundation’s staff, as well as their papers and publications that were used for research and media-related work.

Security forces agents then raided Gaafar’s house while he was waiting in the police car and seized all documents and electronic devices found, including those belonging to his family. His family members were also detained by security agents inside their home for 17 hours. Gaafar was subjected to enforced disappearance for almost two days following his arrest, during which he was blindfolded, handcuffed and interrogated without the presence of a lawyer. On 24 October, Gaafar appeared before the Supreme State Security Prosecution in Cairo, where the Public Prosecutor accused him of membership of the Muslim Brotherhood and of illegally receiving funds from foreign donors to support his Foundation’s activities. A judicial case, no. 720/2015, has been opened against Gaafar, and his pre-trial detention was ordered. Since then, his detention has been regularly renewed for 45 day periods. Gaafar’s next hearing is expected to be held in October 2017, at which point Egyptian law allows for a final renewal of his detention for 45 days. At the end of this final extension, he must be either released or sentenced.
PEN International believes that Gaafar’s arrest and detention are due to his writings critical of the Egyptian authorities, as well as his civic activism within Egyptian society to bring democracy and to eliminate sectarian tension through his dialogue circles, research and publications.

Conditions of detention and serious health concerns
Since his arrest, Gaafar has spent most of his detention in the heavily-guarded Tora Prison (called al-Aqrab). The conditions of his detention are poor: he sleeps on the floor and has no access to basic hygienic necessities. Moreover, Gaafar is denied access to medication and specialist medical care, which he requires for pre-existing medical conditions, namely an enlarged prostate and optic nerve atrophy. As a consequence, Gaafar’s health has been deteriorating and he is at high risk of becoming blind. The Minister of Interior not only refused to provide him with adequate medical treatment but also denied his family the possibility of providing his medication and treatment at a private health care facility.

Only in March 2016, after the serious deterioration of Gaafar’s health, did the authorities transfer him to al-Manial University Hospital, which is affiliated with Cairo University. However, Gaafar was sent back to Tora Prison in August 2016 where he continues to be detained under poor conditions without access to further medical treatment. His family was denied access to the results of this medical intervention. At his hearing on 24 August 2016, Gaafar appeared carrying a urinary catheter. Gaafar’s family is regularly banned from visiting him. They visited him for the first time 11 months after his arrest. On 31 August 2017, when his family was allowed to see him in Tora Prison, they discovered that he completely lost sight in his right eye while his left eye is also weak. Gaafar also informed his family that the medical exams indicated suspected prostate cancer. At his hearing on 12 September 2017, Gaafar’s wife reported that he was beaten and ill-treated by an agent of security service while in their way back to the prison.

Human Rights Watch report “We are in Tombs” documents the abusive conditions within Egypt’s detention system. Gaafar’s ill-treatment is in line with the findings of this report, which describes that “Authorities there have banned inmates from contacting their families or lawyers for months at a time, held them in degrading conditions without beds, mattresses, or basic hygienic items, humiliated, beaten, and confined them for weeks in cramped ‘discipline’ cells – treatment that probably amounted to torture in some cases – and interfered with their medical care in ways that may have contributed to some of their deaths”.

–        Freedom of expression and PEN’s work on Egypt
The situation for freedom of expression and opinion in Egypt has deteriorated sharply since the arrival of President al-Sisi into power in 2014. Many journalists and writers have been arrested or forced to flee the country. PEN passed a Resolution on Egypt at its 82nd World Congress and noted with concern the rise in the number of writers and journalists who have been detained or imprisoned solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression, association, and assembly, including during for journalistic, artistic, or human rights work. For example, in January 2016, the poet Fatima Naoot was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment on charges of ‘contempt of Islam’ and ‘disturbing public peace’ for a comment made on Facebook criticising a traditional Islamic celebration. PEN has also campaigned on the case of journalist and novelist Ahmed Naji, who was sentenced to two years in prison in February 2016 for ‘violating public modesty’ in relation to the publication of excerpts from his 2014 novel Istikhdam al-Haya (The Use of Life). On 18 December 2016, a Court suspended Naji’s sentence pending his appeal. Naji was released but he faces an appeal hearing and travel ban. Egyptian authorities have also refused internationally acclaimed poet Omar Hazek from leaving Egypt in January 2016 to accept the Oxfam Novib/PEN Award for Freedom of Expression. In early February 2017, Hazek was detained alongside fellow activists and questioned for five hours, before being released. More recently, PEN condemned the arbitrary dismissal of three journalists from a newspaper due to the expression of an opinion that contradicted the official position of the Egyptian authorities.

PEN continues to call for the Egyptian authorities to protect the rights of all Egyptians to freely express their views, whether as citizens, journalists, or writers, as protected under the Egyptian Constitution and as per Egypt’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

For any further information, please contact Nael Georges, PEN International, Koops Mill Mews, 162-164 Abbey Street, London SE1 2AN | Tel: +44 (0) 207 405 0338 | Email: Nael.Georges [at] pen-international [dot] org<mailto:Nael.Georges [at] pen-international [dot] org>

Equatorial Guinea: Release detained cartoonist Ramón Esono Ebalé

PEN International is extremely concerned over the detention of cartoonist Ramón Esono Ebalé, alias Jamon y Queso, who was arrested on 16 September in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea. He was initially questioned by security agents in relation to his cartoons that are critical of President Obiang and other government officials. News outlets reported a few days later that he is being investigated for alleged money laundering and counterfeiting money. He was presented before a judge on 20 September where he was asked about these allegations. He was subsequently sent to Black Beach prison in Malabo where he is being held in preventive detention while further investigations are conducted. He has yet to be charged with an offence.

PEN International believes that Esono Ebalé is being arbitrarily detained in relation to his activism and work, in violation of his right to freedom of expression, and calls on the authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally.

Image provided by EG Justice.
Illustration originally drawn by Ramón Esono Ebalé

TAKE ACTION: Share on Facebook, Twitter and other social media

Please send appeals calling on the authorities of Equatorial Guinea to:

–          Immediately and unconditionally release Ramón Esono Ebalé

–          Respect the right to freedom of expression, as enshrined in the Constitution of Equatorial Guinea and as per article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Equatorial Guinea is a state party

Write to:
President of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea
Mr. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo
Palacio Presidencial
Avenida de la Libertad Malabo
Equatorial Guinea
Salutation: His Excellency

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Equatorial Guinea in your country if possible. A list of embassies can be found here.

***Please send appeals immediately. Check with PEN International if sending appeals after 20 October 2017. ***

Suggested tweet: #Equatorial Guinea: Release detained cartoonist Ramón Esono Ebalé #FreeNseRamon

Please keep us informed of any action you take, including any responses you receive from the authorities.

Born in 1977, Ramon Esono Ebalé is a cartoonist and activist from Equatorial Guinea who has won several awards for his work. He is a well-known critic of President Obiang and his government and uses his drawings to highlight the large levels of inequality in Equatorial Guinea and the human rights violations committed by the state.

His satirical blog Las Locuras de Jamón y Queso criticised and caricatured the President and other government officials and was blocked by the authorities in Equatorial Guinea. In 2014 he published a graphic novel, La pesadilla de Obi (Obi’s nightmare), for which he contributed the drawings. The novel depicts the president as a normal citizen, experiencing the injustices of his own regime.

Esono Ebalé moved to Paraguay in 2011 and at the time of his arrest, had recently returned to Equatorial Guinea in order to apply for a new passport.. After several weeks in the country waiting for his passport, he was arrested on 16 September while out for dinner with two friends of Spanish nationality. All three were detained and questioned at the Central Police station, but the Spanish nationals were released after a few hours. According to reports, the police asked Esono Ebalé questions about his drawings of the President and other high-ranking officials and his political leanings. He was told his drawings were offensive to the President and that his blog had text that was insulting and defamatory. He was also told that people should only participate in politics if they are associated with a political party.

While originally questioned upon his arrest about his drawings and blog, he was presented before a judge on 20 September and told he was being investigated for alleged money laundering and counterfeiting money, in what appear to be trumped up charges. His family and friends believe these accusations are part of a strategy to discredit him, according to reports. No charges have yet been brought and he is currently being detained in Black Beach jail.

The space for dissent in Equatorial Guinea is highly restricted and various human rights organisations have documented the routine harassment of human rights defenders, as well as a more recent clampdown on artists and cultural groups, including an incident in July 2017 when an artist was detained for a song he had released in support of taxi drivers protesting an increase in licensing fees.

For further details contact Lianna Merner, PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 Fax +44 (0) 20 7405 0339 e-mail: lianna.merner [at] pen-international [dot] org

Africa Programme Coordinator | PEN International
Chargée du Programme Afrique PEN International
Email: lianna.merner [at] pen-international [dot] org<mailto:lianna.merner [at] pen-international [dot] org>
t. +44 (0)20 7405 0338<tel:%2B44%20%280%2920%207405%200338> |Twitter: @pen_int | Facebook:<>

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