Last week, the IPVM Research Group released a detailed report on the sale of monitoring and video surveillance equipment and tools to the Islamic Republic by the Chinese company Tiandy. A report that presents us with a very grim and concerning prospect of a new quality of repression as well as the regime’s heavy investment in this field on the horizon of the expanded scale and increasing intensity of civil protests in Iran. IPVM is an independent group and one of the most reputable institutions for research and review of video surveillance systems, whose research results are used in the international media, from Reuters to Wall Street Journal, as well as government agencies and organizations. IPVM reports Tiandy, based in Tianjin, China, is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of video surveillance systems, with $688 million in sales in 2020.
Tiandy sells its products to the IRGC, the police and the army of the Islamic Republic and has a representative office in Iran. But the company’s huge revenue comes not only from the production and sale of video surveillance equipment. The company has close ties to China’s police and intelligence agencies and makes products such as “tiger chairs” or “smart interrogation tables” for these agencies. Many reports and images of this Chinese torture instrument have been published over the years. In May 2015, Human Rights Watch portrayed a “tiger chair” in a report based on the descriptions of torture victims:
Former prisoner Lei Xinmu testified: “The “tiger chair” is an iron chair, its iron buckles fastened around your hands and feet. I sat on the tiger chair, and had two spotlights shining on top of my head, they took turns talking to me … and they did not let me sleep, I could not stand it … [I was buckled in the chair] for nine days and nights.”
Five years later, in September 2020, we see an upgraded version of this Chinese chair in an Amnesty International report entitled “Trampling Humanity” regarding the torture of November 2019 detainees in Iran:
“One of my interrogators would instruct the others to ‘tickle him a little’, by which they meant to administer a low voltage shock. But this so-called ‘tickling’ felt like my entire body was being pierced with millions of needles. If I refused to answer their questions, they would raise the voltage levels and give me stronger electric shocks. Each time I was given one of these stronger electric shocks, it felt like there was an earthquake in my body… I would shake violently and there would be a strong burning sensation coursing through my whole body… To this day, I have continued to be affected… The torture has had lasting effects on my mental and physical health. To this day, I still can’t sleep at night,” Amnesty International documented the explanation, quoting one of the November 2019 detainees.
In China, detainees are hung from window bars:
And the Islamic Republic hangs them from the ceiling:
In September 2020, two months before “Aban Tribunal” was first mentioned in Persian sources, Geoffrey Nice announced the formation of the “Uyghur Tribunal” to address the crimes of the People’s Republic of China against the Uyghur people. A year later, at the tribunal’s September 2021 meeting, Conor Healy of the IPVM provided documentation and reports on the role of Chinese industrial and commercial giants, such as Huawei, Alibaba, as well as Tiandy in the Uyghur genocide.
The “smart interrogation table” that we see in the picture above is one of the products of Tiandy company, which is offered to the torturing and interrogating clients along with the “tiger chair”. The table has a touch screen and a display to show evidence to the prisoner tied to a “tiger chair” and can record all the confessions of the tortured person. Tiandy cameras are equipped with software capable of “ethnicity detection and tracking”. Conar Healy reported on a “race analytics” software kit (SDK) made by Tiandy at the Uyghur Tribunal meeting. This tool allows the buyer to identify and track “yellow, white, black” and “Uyghur” races.
Some of the buyers of Tiandy tools and technology in Iran mentioned in the IPVM report are:
- Ardabil Seminary School (Howzah)
- IRGC’s Navid Abbas
- Qom and Zanjan Social Security Organization
- Armed Forces Social Security Organization
- Criminal Investigation Department of Khomam City Police Force, Gilan province
- Cooperative Foundation of Prisoners
- Sa Iran (Iran Electronics Industries), a governmental organization, affiliated with the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Support
- Justice Department of Zanjan
The website of Tiandy’s representative office in Iran deleted the page related to its customer list immediately after the publication of the IPVM report. The archive of this page is available and we also see the name of Bonyad-e-Mostazafan in the list of “successful Tiandy projects in Iran”. Furthermore, by searching on social media, we come across advertisements of “Fragostar Holding” about Tiandy products, in which it introduces itself as the “exclusive representative” of the company:
But according to IPVM, last month Pars Ertebat signed a five-year contract with the Chinese manufacturer of interrogation, torture and video surveillance equipment under the supervision of Abbas Azarpendar, regional director at Tiandy Iran:
IPVM report on the scale of the Chinese company Tiandy’s trade relations with the institutions in charge of repression, torture and spreading terror in the Islamic Republic, with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and police forces, shows the regime is trying to establish digital monitoring and control structures of its citizens by copying the Chinese model and with the tools and technologies made in the country. According to Professor Saeed Golkar of the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga, widespread censorship and surveillance are core tenets of that (Chinese) model: “The Islamic Republic is trying to create an internet like China, creating massive connectivity and then controlling it.” In terms of surveillance, censorship and repression, the regime has long followed in the footsteps of the People’s Republic of China. In 2010, Iran Telecommunication Company signed a $130 million contract with the Chinese company ZTE to establish a monitoring and control system over the state-managed telephone and Internet infrastructure. Details of the 25-year deal with China have not been released to date, however, the fact that it includes military and security cooperation between the two countries is something that regime officials have repeatedly and explicitly admitted.
The IPVM report gives us new details about these collaborations. Until recently, many of the Islamic Republic’s intelligence / security services were operated by observers, traffickers and informants, says Professor Golkar. This is changing rapidly: “As Iran becomes more digitized, I’m sure that we will see more digital forms of oppression and surveillance.” The Islamic Republic has a black track record of repressing, stifling, detaining critics, torturing, obtaining and disseminating forced confessions of protesting citizens. The lifting of sanctions in the form of “JCPOA revival” will only help realize the dream of the Islamic Republic of establishing a “complete digital tyranny” with Chinese technology and the Chinese model.
Translation of this post by Sahar.
Cover by Tobias Tullius on Unsplash