A young Chinese woman said she was held for 8 days in a secret Chinese-run site in Dubai with at least two Uighurs, which may be the first evidence that China operates a so-called "black site" outside its borders, the military term for a facility where unrecognized projects are carried out. out.

The woman, Wu Huan, 26, was a fugitive to avoid extradition to China because her fiancé was considered a Chinese dissident.

Wu told The Associated Press that she was kidnapped from a hotel in Dubai and held by Chinese officials in a villa converted into a prison, where she saw or heard two other prisoners, both from the Uighur minority.

She said she was interrogated and threatened in Chinese and forced to sign legal documents accusing her fiancé of harassing her.

After she was finally released on 8 June, she is currently seeking asylum in the Netherlands.

The Associated Press says that while "black sites" are common in China, Wu's account is the only evidence known to experts that Beijing set up a site in another country.

Such a site would reflect how China is increasingly using its international influence to detain or repatriate citizens it wants from abroad, whether they are dissidents, suspected of corruption, or belonging to ethnic minorities such as the Uighurs.

The agency was unable to independently confirm or refute Wu's account, and was unable to determine the exact location of the black site.

However, journalists saw and heard corroborating evidence, including her passport stamps, a phone record of a Chinese official asking her questions and text messages she sent from prison to a priest who was helping the couple.

China's Foreign Ministry denied Wu's story, and ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Monday, "What I can say is that the position that this person spoke of is incorrect."

The Chinese consulate in Dubai did not respond to several requests for comment.

Dubai authorities also did not respond to numerous phone calls and requests for comment addressed to Dubai Police, the Dubai Media Office and the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

Black site in Dubai

Yu Jie Chen, an assistant professor at Taiwan's Academy of Seneca, said she had not heard of a Chinese secret prison in Dubai, and such a facility in another country would be unusual.

However, she also noted that this is in line with China's attempts to do everything in its power to repatriate certain citizens, whether through formal means such as signing extradition treaties and informal means such as canceling visas or putting pressure on family back home, she told the agency.

Wu Han said she was held for 8 days in a "black site" run by China in Dubai with at least two Uighurs (Associated Press)

Wu and her fiancé, 19-year-old Wang Jingyu, were not Uighurs but Han Chinese, who make up the ethnic majority in China.

Wang became wanted by the Chinese authorities for publishing letters questioning Chinese media coverage of the Hong Kong protests in 2019 and China's actions during the border clash with India.

According to the agency, Dubai has a history as a place where Uighurs are interrogated and deported to China.

Activists say that Dubai has been linked to secret interrogations with other countries.

Radha Stirling, a legal lawyer and director of the British organization Detained in Dubai, said she had worked with about 10 people who reported being held in villas in the UAE, including citizens of Canada, India and Jordan but not China.

"There is no doubt that the UAE has detained people on behalf of allied foreign governments," Stirling added, adding, "I don't think they would ever turn down this request from this powerful ally."

However, Patrick Theros, former US ambassador to Qatar and strategic advisor to the Gulf International Forum, called the allegations "completely out of the question" for the Emiratis.

"They don't even allow allies freedom of movement," Theros said. "The idea that the Chinese have a secret position makes no sense."

The US State Department had no comment on Wu's case specifically or on whether there was a Chinese-run black site in Dubai.

"We will continue to coordinate with allies and partners to stand against cross-border repression everywhere," she said in a statement to The Associated Press.

trapped in a villa

Wu said that Chinese officials interrogated her on May 27 at her hotel (Element Al Jaddaf Hotel), then Dubai police took her to Bur Dubai police station. Guests are against company policy.

Wu added that she was detained for 3 days at the police station, with her phone and personal belongings confiscated, and on the third day a Chinese man came to visit her, who introduced himself as Li Zhuhang.

He told her he worked for the Chinese consulate in Dubai, and asked her if she had taken money from foreign groups to work against China.

Wu Huan (right) and Wang Jingyu stand together at a safe house in Ukraine (Associated Press)

After driving for half an hour, they stopped on a deserted street with rows of similar compounds.

She said she was moved to a white, three-story villa, where a series of rooms were converted into single cells.

“Firstly there is no sense of time, and secondly there is no window, and I cannot see whether it is day or night,” Wu said.

She added that she saw another female prisoner, a Uyghur woman, waiting to enter the bathroom, and on another occasion, she heard a Uyghur woman shouting in Chinese, “I don’t want to go back to China, I want to go back to Turkey.” Wu identified the women as Uyghur based on what she said. It is their distinctive appearance and accent.

After Wu was released, she was returned to her hotel and her personal belongings were handed over.

She immediately reached out to Reverend Fu, apologizing for her earlier calls and asking for help, in text messages seen by The Associated Press.

On June 11, she traveled from Dubai to Ukraine, where she was reunited with Wang, and from there they went to the Netherlands.

Reports have emerged in recent years of Emiratis and foreigners being transferred to holding villas, sometimes indefinitely.

China and the UAE have deep economic and political ties and also work together in the field of counterintelligence.

China ratified an extradition treaty with the UAE in 2002 and a judicial cooperation agreement in 2008. The UAE was an experimental site for Chinese coronavirus vaccines and cooperated with China in conducting tests, according to the US agency.