Italy is home to the largest number of unofficial Chinese “police stations” in the world, according to a report by a Spanish human rights group.
Safeguard Defenders said Monday it had identified 48 other stations, 11 of which are in Italy, with others in Croatia, Serbia and Romania, among others.
The report also said that the Italian government’s cooperation with the Chinese central government directly contributed to the establishment of these stations in 2016.
“A 2015 bilateral agreement by the Ministry of Public Security on joint police patrols with the Italian government seems directly related to the subsequent establishment of European “pilot” stations in Milan in 2016 (by the Wenzhou police) and 2018 (by the Qingtian -Police) to have contributed,” the report said.
Italy is home to 330,000 Chinese citizens, according to 2021 figures from Istat, the national statistics agency. The Italian stations are in Rome, Milan, Bolzano, Venice, Florence, Prato – a city near Florence that hosts the largest number of Chinese immigrants per capita in Italy – and Sicily.
The new revelations follow a report on overseas Chinese police stations published by Safeguard Defenders in September. This report revealed 54 stations around the world but mostly in Europe. The new data put the number of such stations at over 100.
The stations nominally provide administrative services, but were also active in “covert and illegal policing,” according to the organization at the time.
The so-called overseas service stations offer Chinese citizens diplomatic services, such as renewing their driver’s licenses – but they also try to silence Chinese dissidents in Europe.
In addition to the already uncovered operations in Spain and Serbia, at least one “return persuasion” operation was carried out by the Wenzhou station in Paris. Safeguard Defenders said that in its new report, this “contradicts statements by the PRC authorities that the stations merely provide ‘administrative services’.”
A number of countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Canada have started looking into the issue and launching investigations, but Italy is among those that have been more cautious so far.
“To date, despite having the largest number of liaison posts on its soil, the Italian government is among the very few European countries that have yet to publicly announce an investigation into Chinese overseas police stations or declare their illegality,” the report said.
POLITICO has asked the Italian government for a statement.