According to a report by a Spanish civil rights group, Italy has the most unofficial Chinese “police stations” out of a network of more than 100 around the world.
According to the Guardian, Milan was allegedly used as a European testing ground for a policing strategy to monitor the Chinese population abroad and force dissidents to return home by two local Chinese public security authorities.
According to Safeguard Defenders, 54 such stations allegedly existed around the world in September, prompting police investigations in at least 12 countries, including Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands.
The civil rights organisation said in a report released on Monday that it had identified 48 additional stations, 11 of which are in Italy.
Other newly discovered stations were in Croatia, Serbia, and Romania, according to the report.
According to the Guardian, the Italian stations are in Rome, Milan, Bolzano, Venice, Florence, Prato (a town near Florence with the largest Chinese community in Italy), and Sicily.
According to China, the offices are simply “service stations” set up to help Chinese citizens with bureaucratic procedures such as renewing their passports or driving licenses.
The Safeguard Defenders investigation was based on publicly available Chinese statements and data, and it was limited to stations established by local Chinese public security authorities in countries with a large Chinese community.
According to the Safeguard Defenders, while the stations were not directly run by Beijing, “some statements and policies are starting to show a clearer guidance from the central government in encouraging their establishment and policies”.
According to the civil rights organisation, China uses the unofficial police stations to “harass, threaten, intimidate, and force targets to return to China for persecution.”
The group claims to have evidence of intimidation, rather than the official extradition channel, being used to force people home from Italy, including against a factory worker accused of misappropriation who returned to China after 13 years in Italy and vanished without a trace, according to the Guardian.