Exposing China's undercover police stations around the world: Beijing's latest weapon to stifle dissent
Wherever Nafisa goes she is hounded by the Chinese government.
Spies are sent to trick her into failing business deals, they move into apartments nearby and take a special interest in her activities; they follow her around and take photos.
She receives telephone calls from police in the homeland reminding her that they are "looking after" her sister.
Somehow they know when she has been to a protest and call her to let her know that they have her family in their sights. If she leaves her exiled country to champion the Uyghur cause elsewhere, her sister is "entertained by the Chinese government" until she returns, so they tell her.
"Under the guise of cultural centres and everyday businesses such as estate agents, grocery stores and Chinese restaurants, CCP agents operate to spy on overseas Chinese, question them, harass them and twist their arms to return home"
Nafisa, an Uyghur, fled persecution in her homeland more than twenty years ago, but the Chinese authorities are still on her tail.
Her new home and citizenship are in Turkey. She has a Turkish passport, but they tell her they will never rest until they get her back to face her crimes.
"Crimes" of speaking against oppression and organising her people to demand equality and freedom would ensure she never left prison for many years if she returned, if at all.
The Chinese government's efforts to rein in the diaspora and return them to the homeland have been well documented. The Uyghur Human Right's Project June 2021 report, No Space Left to Run, and the Index on Censorship's February 2022 report, China's Long Arm, have plumbed the depths that Beijing will go to bring "wayward" exiles back to face their "crimes."
But the latest and most insidious attempt by the CCP to spy on overseas Chinese has been to unashamedly in broad daylight, set up its own "police stations" in sovereign territories around the world to adjudicate on its own citizens.
Under the guise of cultural centres and everyday businesses such as estate agents, grocery stores and Chinese restaurants, CCP agents operate to spy on overseas Chinese, question them, harass them and twist their arms to return home.
Against some, the Chinese government might have a legitimate grievance, but others fleeing political persecution are increasingly targeted for attention.
Nafisa and thousands like her, trying to make a new life in exile are mercilessly hounded until some give in; very often for the sake of their relatives, held to ransom in the homeland until they return.
The latest report by Spanish human rights group, Safeguard Defenders, 110 Overseas, Chinese Transnational Policing Gone Wild, has blown the whistle on at least 54 of these policing bases scattered far and wide across the globe in places as remote as Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia, Maseru in Lesotho, Seri Begawan in Brunei and Vīna del Mar in Chile.
Methods to inveigle them home at all costs circumvent the usual bilateral mechanisms of police and judicial cooperation and severely undermine the international rule of law and integrity of the third countries involved.
Legal Chinese residents abroad are exposed to extra-legal "persuasion" with none of the normal protections of national and international law.
The discoveries have outraged authorities in democratic countries triggering hunts for their location and prompting urgent calls in international parliaments to close them down.
"These are all tactics to intimidate us...We live under the shadow of terror and suspicion"
The SD investigation exposes the extent of Beijing's long-arm policing and harassment of its own people living outside the homeland.
Whereas efforts to date to return the wanted have been under the radar, Beijing does nothing to hide its latest project, claiming the police stations, or "Chinese Service Centres" serve a useful purpose in renewing driving licences and offering physical examinations, and operating within the law.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, affronted by foreign journalist criticism at his regular press conference on October 26, 2022, said, "Chinese public security authorities strictly observe international law and fully respect the judicial sovereignty of other countries."
Bridling at suggestions that Beijing was operating illegally on foreign soil, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, attacking the SD Involuntary Returns report in a press conference on January 19, 2022, said that "pursuing fugitives and recovering stolen assets," was a "just cause." He accused the report of being "rife with speculation and lies".
According to SD, what started as a pilot in Fujian province, as the "Fighting Gangsters and Scammers Going Overseas from the Area Where They Come From” campaign to combat transnational telecom fraud, has expanded into ten provinces and morphed into undercover witch hunts across five continents which according to Chinese authorities have "persuaded to return" 230,000 of its nationals from April 2021-July 2022.
New Chinese governmental data does nothing to hide its methods, which use "guilt by association" tactics to deprive suspects' children of the right to education in China, and involve harassing or detaining relatives and family until the guilty party capitulates and comes home "voluntarily."
Despite only nine countries, mainly in Asia being designated by Beijing as forbidden to their nationals because of fraud-linked crimes, the scope of secretive policing is far wider and has very little in practice to do with crimes of fraud, and the number of so-called "Overseas Offices" is expanding.
Set up with military precision, a 70-person team was initially sent overseas from the Fujian province to conduct "foreign strike operations," with an axe over their heads should they fail in their mission. Saving their own skins was a major factor in getting the "criminals" home.
Not only fraudsters but people like Nafisa, Tibetans and Hong Kong exiles have been faced with a steady trickle of sinister phone calls, been followed and accosted to account for their presence in a foreign land. "They are relentless," Nafisa told The New Arab from her home in Turkey. "We have been here living quiet lives for years, but they never leave us alone."
The Chinese authorities under cover in Turkey pit Uyghur against Uyghur using their families as collateral, paying hard-up exiles $80 to pass on information about their countrymen, she says. Two Uyghurs she knows have been involved in mystery car accidents where strangers have deliberately driven into them.
"These are all tactics to intimidate us," she said. "We live under the shadow of terror and suspicion."
In pursuing its low-level criminals, corrupt officials or dissidents, China's blatant disregard for international norms such as the right to a fair trial, assuming innocence until guilt is proven, and the use of proper processes in international relations was chilling, according to the SD report.
Cutting across UN conventions against torture and the protection of refugees, international law, and universal standards of human rights, Beijing flouts the territorial integrity of third countries and will stop at nothing to achieve its aims.
Tom Tugendhat, UK Minister for Security, on hearing of three undercover police stations in the UK, addressing the House of Commons on November 1, said that CCP illegal repatriations "would not be tolerated." This egregious activity is part of a wider trend of authoritarian Governments perpetrating translational repression in an effort to silence their critics overseas and undermine democracy and the rule of law," he said.
"This Government are committed to tackling the challenge of transnational repression wherever it originates," added Tugendhat. "It would be unacceptable for any foreign Government to feel able to operate in that way in the United Kingdom, and it must be stopped."
The author is writing under a pseudonym to protect her identity