Masquerading as a residence between two restaurants in the 13th arrondissement of Paris is one of the three alleged Chinese “overseas police stations” in the city. Established secretly, these are apparently offices of Chinese regional police organizations that are used to surveil and intimidate not just Chinese exiles and dissidents, but also people of other nationalities who criticize the Chinese regime.
A roundtable hosted by the DISSIDENT club last week focusing on “Chinese police stations in France and the West” brought together representatives from Safeguard Defenders, a Madrid-based human rights non-governmental organization (NGO) that recently released an in-depth investigation about the issue, along with journalists from several French media outlets including – the well known newspaper Libération.The event was attended by a number of Chinese dissidents in exile from Hong Kong, Tibet, and East Turkestan (commonly known as the Uyghurs), who spoke of their experiences.
“The goal [of these police stations] is not to put people in prison, but to send the message that even in France, China has the power”, said Tenam, an activist for free Tibet living in exile in Paris.
Last December, the Libération reported that these police stations have facilitated at least one coercive operation on a Chinese citizen on French soil. Laurence Defranoux, the journalist from Libération, told the audience at the DISSIDENT Club how the Chinese embassy tried to discredit its investigations into a secret police station in Aubervillier, a Parisian suburb. “It is a question of sovereignty,” she said. “It is really democracy under attack.”
Dr. Dilnur Reyhan, the President of the Uyghur Institute in France reported that the Chinese police were harassing her sister, with whom she has had no contact since 2019, for details about her French citizenship. “Now the Chinese monitoring service is not only targeting dissidents and the diaspora, but also citizens of these so-called democracies who dare to speak out and criticize”.
“The existence of these police stations is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Chinese government’s efforts to intimidate and persecute its critics,” explained Lok Kan of the African Hong Kong France (AHKF) movement.
But even more alarming is the fact that the Chinese regime is trying to legitimize these stations by inserting them into the mechanisms of international and bilateral cooperation, which is a clear attack against civil liberties.
An example of such cooperation between China and Europe is Italy. Between 2015 and 2018, the Italian government signed a series of bilateral security deals with China that included joint patrols with the Chinese police forces in Rome, Milan, and Naples, according to Safeguard Defenders, which also found evidence of video surveillance systems being added to the Chinese residential areas in Italy under the guise of “deterring crime”.
“The most serious problem about this is not just the actions of the Chinese state, but the fact that the countries that claim to be democratic are accepting this,” said Dr. Reyhan.
Since the Safeguard Defenders report was released in late 2022, governments of the Netherlands, Germany, Portugal and Canada have launched police investigations into the matter. However, without a strong and effective action to stop such violations of sovereignty and rights, political dissidents, especially those from regions under control by China continue to face threats to their freedom and life, despite living in exile, where they are supposed to be safe.
Taha Siddiqui, the founder of the DISSIDENT Club, and a Pakistani journalist in exile concluded the roundtable by calling for the West to do more.“Dissidents like us are repeatedly highlighting such transnational repression by China and other oppressive regimes. Journalists are writing about it, and NGOs are publishing reports. It is high time that the western governments also acted against this illegal acts of China to protect the values of democracy and freedom of speech.”
Written by Leah Koonthamatham
Edited by Taha Siddiqui