How EU-made shotgun cartridges ended up being used to repress protests in Iran

Issued on: 25/11/2022 – 16:56

Photographs sent to the FRANCE 24 Observers team in October and November 2022 show shotgun cartridges recovered from protests in Iran. The cartridges bear the logos of Cheddite, a Franco-Italian ammunition manufacturer. © Observers

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An investigation by the FRANCE 24 Observers team has found evidence that shotgun cartridges manufactured by French-Italian manufacturer Cheddite have been used in the repression of protests in Iran. Shotgun cartridges using Cheddite components have been widely used for hunting purposes in Iran since at least 2011, an apparent violation of EU sanctions that went into place that year.


In its investigation, the FRANCE 24 Observers team asked Iranians to send photographs of spent ammunition recovered from protests repressed by Iran’s security forces since the death of Mahsa Amini on September 16. The team analysed more than 100 photos and videos showing tear gas canisters, rifle bullets, paintball projectiles and cartridges from shotguns, which have been widely used by Iran’s security forces. While most of the shotgun shells photographed were made in Iran, 13 shells recovered from eight different Iranian cities bore Cheddite logos. 

Cheddite-branded shotgun shells have been widely used by Iranian hunters for years. A member of Iran’s security forces told the FRANCE 24 Observers that his unit is sometimes issued with hunting cartridges. 

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Cheddite has factories in and , with headquarters in Livorno, Italy and Bourg-lès-Valence, France. The company claims to be the world’s largest maker of empty shotgun cartridges and firing caps, producing more than a billion empty cartridges every year. The company manufactures empty cartridges with plastic casings and metal bases that contain a spark-producing primer, and sells them to other manufacturers who fill the cartridges with explosive powder and pellets or other projectiles.

This image from the Cheddite website shows the French-Italian company’s logos: “Cheddite 12” and “12*12*12*12*” © Observers

Cheddite-branded cartridges found in 2022 protests

Iranian citizens sent photographs to FRANCE 24 showing three Cheddite-branded cartridges they recovered from the protests that have gripped the country since September 16. An activist group sent in photographs showing an additional 10 Cheddite-branded cartridges found during the 2022 protests.

These photographs show shotgun cartridges recovered from 2022 protests in cities around Iran. Top left: Cheddite cartridge found after a protest in Shiraz. Top right: Cheddite cartridges found in Kamyaran. Middle left: Cheddite cartridge found in Karaj. Middle and middle right: Cheddite and Maham cartridges found in Sanandaj. Lower right: Cheddite cartridge found in Shiraz. Lower left: Cheddite cartridge found in Rasht. © Observers

A protester in the central city of Yazd sent photographs of a cartridge he recovered after security forces fired shotguns at him and other demonstrators on September 28. The cartridge has “Cheddite 12” engraved on the base, and “Shahin 2017/24” on the green plastic casing. 

The man told FRANCE 24: “When they shoot at people, they always try to pick up all the empty cartridges on the ground. This one had fallen down somewhere in the darkness. They did not see it, and I was able to find it when they were gone”. His account is consistent with other witnesses who told FRANCE 24 or reported on social media that the security forces routinely try to pick up empty shells from the ground.

These photographs show a shotgun cartridge recovered September 28, 2022 by an Iranian citizen after a protest in the city of Yazd. The cartridge bears the logo of French-Italian manufacturer Cheddite. © Observers

These photographs show a shotgun cartridge recovered from a protest on October 3, 2022 by a resident of Tehran. The cartridge bears the logo of French-Italian manufacturer Cheddite. © Observers

A demonstrator in the capital Tehran sent photographs of a cartridge recovered on October 3, after security forces fired shotguns at protesters. The cartridge features the Cheddite “12*12*12*12*” logo and a yellow plastic sleeve reading “Iran 2020/01”.

This cartridge was recovered from a protest in Mahabad on October 29, 2022. It also bears the logo of French-Italian manufacturer Cheddite. © Observers

After FRANCE 24 asked Iranian residents to send in photographs of spent ammunition on October 30, a resident of Mahabad sent images of a cartridge recovered after security forces used shotguns to repress a protest on October 29. The cartridge had a green plastic casing with no markings, and Cheddite’s “12*12*12*12*” logo on the base. 

Two ballistics experts told FRANCE 24 that the cartridges appeared to be manufactured by Cheddite. The French-Italian firm is the only manufacturer known to use the “12*12*12*12*” logo. “The 12-star pattern matches the headstamp shown on the Cheddite website and other websites displaying Cheddite products,” said Neil Corney of the Omega Research Foundation. 

Members of , a group documenting the 2022 protests, sent photographs showing 10 more Cheddite-branded shotgun cartridges. The group said the cartridges were recovered from the cities of Shiraz, Karaj, Rasht, Sanandaj and Kamyaran.

A member of Iran’s Basij militia who has been active in the repression of the 2022 protests told FRANCE 24 that his unit’s is Maham-branded cartridges with clear casings marked “antiriot” and filled with plastic pellets. He said they have also been given unmarked hunting cartridges to use, filled with metal shot, which cause “tiny injuries all over” the bodies of victims.

13 Cheddite-branded shotgun shells were recovered from eight different Iranian cities during protests between September and November 2022. © Observers

EU sanction bars export of shotgun ammunition for ‘internal repression’

, passed on April 12, 2011, prohibits the “export, directly or indirectly, [of] equipment which might be used for internal repression” in Iran, including “firearms, ammunition and related accessories”.

Five sanctions experts told FRANCE 24 the ban extends to shotgun shells and their components, regardless of their intended usage or the chain of sale. 

Nicholas Marsh, senior researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), said: “The regulation currently in force states that it is not allowed to sell shotguns of any type, ammunition designed for them and associated components. The restriction on firearms was added in an amendment on 24 March 2012. Since then, shotguns and their ammunition have been covered by the EU sanctions, and the sanctions are still in effect.”

Mehrdad Emadi, an economic advisor for the European Union, added: “Cheddite is legally responsible, whether Iran bought the products directly or from a third party. Cheddite must vet its buyers and ensure that they do not resell the products to terrorist organisations or to countries that are banned under EU rules, as its products are not dual-use, but are designed to injure or kill.”

Patrick Wilcken, Amnesty International’s researcher on arms control and human rights, said: “Cheddite has a responsibility to respect human rights; it should carry out human rights due diligence on its entire value chain and should cease supplies if there is a risk of goods being diverted into hands of serial human rights violators… As shotguns/hunting ammunition have been used for some time for law enforcement in Iran, and Turkey exports cartridges to Iran and other high-risk counties, there would be a strong argument to say that the company should have been aware of these risks, and should have ceased supplies.”

A spokesperson for the EU Commission October 27 confirmed that EU sanctions prohibit manufacturers from supplying arms or ammunition to Iran. She said she was unable to comment on the Cheddite-branded ammunition found in Iran because of lack of details on the case.  The spokesperson did not respond to a subsequent request providing details.

Cheddite components used in cartridges for Iran’s hunting market

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Photographs of Cheddite-branded shotgun cartridges have been widely shared on an online forum for Iranian hunters since at least 2013. The photographs show boxes of cartridges with metal bases inscribed with “Cheddite 12” or the Franco-Italian manufacturer’s logo, “12*12*12*12*” written in a circle. The cartridges have coloured plastic sleeves with the brand “Shahin” printed on them, with dates between 2013 and 2015. 

One hunter told FRANCE 24: “Our hunting and gun licences give us a quota of 100 cartridges that we can buy each year. For many years I used Shahin ammunition that had primer bases from European manufacturers such as Cheddite.” Another wrote on the forum in 2014/2016: “Hey friends, this year’s Shahin cartridges have ‘Cheddite’ written on the base and on the box it says ‘made in Italy!!!!!!” A photo posted in 2015 shows a Shahin box marked: “Components are from ITALY.”

This photograph posted on the Iranian hunting forum in 2015 shows a box of Iranian-made shotgun cartridges marked “Component are from ITALY.” © Observers

This photograph, posted in 2020 on an Iranian hunters’ forum, shows shotgun cartridges with the Cheddite logo on the base and Yavascalar, a Turkish brand, on the casing. © Observers

Shahin is a brand manufactured for the hunting market by Shahid Shiroudi Military Industries, an Iranian ammunition maker that also supplies to Iran’s security forces. The company is a subsidiary of the state-owned Ammunition Industries Group, itself part of Iran’s Defence Industries Organization, under US and EU sanctions since 2007, and UN sanctions from 2006 to 2015.

‌ by Iranian media show that between 2018 and 2019 Shahid Shiroudi sought to purchase a total of 85 million units of “plastic sleeves attached to a metal base” for the use in the production of shotgun shells. In the same period, the company sought bids for 1,500 tonnes of metal pellets that can be used to fill the shells, according to official bids published by the company in Iranian media.

In this public tender published by Iranian media on June 3, 2018 , Iranian ammunition maker Shahin Shiroudi Military Industries sought bids for the purchase of 50 million “plastic sleeves attached to a metal base” for use in the production of shotgun cartridges. © Observers

Cheddite cartridges in Myanmar via ‘The Turkish Route’?

This photograph shows a Cheddite shotgun cartridge that was recovered in Myanmar on March 3, 2021 after security forces fired a shotgun into an ambulance. Like Iran, Myanmar is subject to EU sanctions on equipment that can be used for internal repression. © .

In March 2021, images of Cheddite-branded cartridges similar to those obtained by FRANCE 24 from Iran emerged from Myanmar, another country subject to an EU export ban on equipment used for internal repression. 

The Myanmar images led to an investigation by Italian NGOs who suspected that Cheddite was selling empty cartridges to Turkey’s Yavascalar YAF, and that the Turkish company sold the cartridges to Myanmar. Turkey is not a member of the EU, and not subject to EU sanctions.  Italian newspaper Il Manifesto dubbed the suspected exports “.” 

After questioning by the NGOs, the Italian foreign ministry revealed that Cheddite had requested a license to export 600,000 12-gauge shotgun cartridges to Myanmar in September 2018, but withdrew the request a month later. 

The NGOs found evidence that Cheddite did business with ZSR Patlayici Sanayi A.S., Yavascalar YAF’s parent company, and that it had once owned shares in the Turkish firm. They found United Nations trade data indicating 2014 ammunition exports from Livorno, the province where Cheddite is based, to Turkey, and similar 2014 ammunition exports from Turkey to Myanmar. The data identify only the nature of the exports, not the identity of the companies involved. 

The Italian NGOs asked Cheddite whether it had an export licence that allowed for its Turkish partner to export to Myanmar, but the company did not respond. 

“We tried to contact Cheddite for a long time and they did not answer any of our questions,” says Alessandro De Pascale, a journalist who covered the NGOs’ investigation for Il Manifesto. “Finally, after our article was published, the police searched their office in Livorno to investigate the affair. So far, no fines or sanctions have been imposed on Cheddite. The matter is now in the hands of the judiciary and we do not know what will happen next.”

Turkey a ‘red-flag state’ for avoiding arms embargoes

Iran’s security forces are known to use , and sanctions experts say Turkey is known as a staging post for avoiding arms embargoes. 

“Turkey is a red-flag state for diversion of arms – it has been flagrantly breaching the UN arms embargo on Libya, for example,” says Patrick Wilcken of Amnesty. 

According to , Turkey exported more than $7.33 million (€7.06 million) worth of shotgun cartridges to Iran since 2011, when the EU’s sanction on equipment for internal repression went into force. During the same period, Italy exported $89 million (€85.8 million) worth of shotgun shells to Turkey.

FRANCE 24 has made multiple requests to Cheddite France and Cheddite Italy for information about exports of its products to Turkey and Iran, but the company has not responded. Attempts to contact ZSR Patlayici Sanayi A.S. were also unsuccessful.

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