China closes two 'secret police stations' in Prague, says Czech foreign minister

Access to the comments Comments
By Matthew Holroyd
The front door of the Chinese embassy in Prague.
The front door of the Chinese embassy in Prague.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Petr David Josek, File

China has closed two "secret police stations" located in Prague, the Czech foreign minister has said.

Beijing has been accused of operating "illegal" posts in Europe to monitor, intimidate, and harass dissidents.

The Spain-based NGO Safeguard Defenders said in September that 100 such "police stations" had been set up around the world.

"Czech diplomacy has repeatedly raised the issue of 'police stations' with the Chinese side," Minister Jan Lipavsky told AFP on Thursday.

"I discussed it with the Chinese ambassador this week and he assured me that those in the Czech Republic have been closed," he added.

Beijing has insisted that the centres provide diplomatic services to Chinese nationals living abroad, such as renewing their driving licences.

But many European countries say the "police stations" have not been officially registered. Diplomatic services are usually carried out by recognised embassies or consulates under the international Vienna Convention -- signed by China and more than 100 other countries.

Last month, the Netherlands ordered China to close two "police stations" in the country, while authorities in Canada, Germany, Ireland, and Spain have launched investigations.

On Wednesday, the Italian government also pledged to look into the matter and said they will not exclude sanctions on China.

"There is no authorisation from the Department of Public Security for this activity," Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi told the Chamber of Deputies. "The police and intelligence forces will monitor it with the utmost attention".

According to Safeguard Defenders, Italy alone is home to 11 "illegal" Chinese stations, more than any other country.

The NGO says that the "stations" use former military and intelligence officers as employees to encourage up to 230,000 Chinese nationals to return to the country, sometimes to face criminal charges. China's government said the reports were "completely false".

Italy is one of the western countries with the largest Chinese population, around 330,000 according to the "La Reppublica" newspaper.

Additional sources • AFP, ANSA