Rome, Dec 5 (IANS): Italy hosts the highest number of unofficial Chinese "police stations" out of a network of more than 100 around the world, a report by a Spanish civil rights group has claimed.
Milan was allegedly used by two local Chinese public security authorities as a European testing ground for a policing strategy to monitor the Chinese population abroad and force dissidents to return home, the Guardian quoted the report by the Madrid-based Safeguard Defenders as saying.
Safeguard Defenders reported in September that 54 such stations allegedly existed around the world, prompting police investigations in at least 12 countries including Canada, Germany and the Netherlands.
In a report published on Monday, the civil rights group said it had identified 48 additional stations, 11 of which are in Italy.
Other newly identified stations were in Croatia, Serbia and Romania, it said.
The Italian stations are in Rome, Milan, Bolzano, Venice, Florence, Prato -- a town near Florence that hosts the largest Chinese community in Italy -- and Sicily, reports the Guardian.
China has said the offices are merely "service stations" set up to assist Chinese citizens with bureaucratic procedures such as renewing a passport or driving licence.
The investigation carried out by Safeguard Defenders was based on publicly available Chinese statements and data, and was limited to stations established by local Chinese public security authorities in countries where there is a large Chinese community.
Safeguard Defenders claimed that 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".
The civil rights group alleges that the unofficial police stations are used by China to "harass, threaten, intimidate and force targets to return to China for persecution".
The group says it has evidence of intimidation, as opposed to the official channel of extradition, being used to force people home fromItaly, including against a factory worker accused of misappropriation who returned to China after 13 years in Italy and disappeared without a trace, the Guardian reported.