Is it realistic for a world where dissident individuals with no public profile have a means to obtain protection from a hostile regime?

Topic Clarification

Obviously this is for the community to decide, but let me present my best case as to why this question belongs here.

I will regurgitate a few things from the comments, as the makings of an important discussion are there. With regards to the relevance of this question in the context of world building, consider the following as I explain why world building for this question:

My world is merely inspired by real political events rather than strictly based in reality. I see other SE communities as too rigid, and lacking the creative elements I need to weigh as I continue to build my world's political and societal landscapes.

In the post I do mention "individual" frequently, but I mean this in the general sense, in other words we're not discussing the actions of a specific character (which of course would be off-topic):

It is not about the actions of any one individual, but rather the feasibility for any such person inhabiting the world. Thereby, the question is appropriate as per the reality-check tag as it is commonly understood.


by public profile I mean: having a degree of fame, well-connected. Suffice to say people will notice fast if you go "missing"

In this world there is a malign regime that dispatches a secret police force that can crack down on any dissident groups and make individuals "disappear." Often this amounts to the individuals being kidnapped and detained for life. For the rare cases where the individual has a mighty public profile, the regime assumes that making such influential people disappear would make a "martyr" out of them leading to undue reinforcing of dissident sentiment. Instead, the regime prefers to keep the dissidents with public profiles around but at the cultural and economic fringes of society. They are made out to be raving conspiracy theorists, and there are no financial incentives for others to associate with them.

Let's take a brief cut-scene to the real world to understand how a regime's economic disenfranchisement might look like... As Yevgenia Albats of Russia based New Times Magazine recently said in an interview when asked how she operates:

"They allow some opposition voices to exist. But I had to close the paper version of my magazine because people were afraid and are still afraid to give us ads. We're running on a very small budget, only digital, and most likely we will go out of business in the months to come."

Moving along, sometimes the fictional regime in my world even targets individuals without a firm basis for dissident activity. It is uncertain whether the regime chooses to do this out of sheer megalomania or if it is premeditated at the secret police debriefings. Regardless, those individuals who find themselves in the crosshairs of the regime and lack the public profile of the more illustrious dissidents seem to have very limited ways to protect themselves from being detained -- at least in theory...

  • Media: - All media channels are state controlled and unsympathetic to the plight of the targeted individual

  • Knowing important people (connections): it is conceivable that an individual with little to nothing in terms of a public profile will still know one or two influential people, but unless that person is a close friend or relative, it's hard to say if he/she would step in merely for an acquaintance. Also, even under the influential close friend/relative scenario, there is also the risk of inaction due to fear of the regime. All things considered, having "connections" seems to be more of a roll of the dice than a plausible way to avoid capture.

  • Asylum/Smuggling: - While this state does not have closed borders, it does however collect very granular data about who is going in and out of the country. Once the individual is targeted, he/she will be blacklisted by all outbound modes of transportation. Due to geography and finite resources, it is extremely impractical for the malign regime to monitor every rugged and far-flung corner of the territory. An escape via smuggling is plausible, but an Interpol-like entity would carry out man-hunts even abroad. As difficult as life on the run would be, it would be better than life-long detainment and possible torture.

Question: Is there a way for a dissident with little to no public profile to speak of (a nobody, if you will) and modest resources to avoid being detained if targeted by a malign regime who intends to make him/her "disappear" without ironically disappearing oneself?

Further clarifications

  • financial resources: poor to middle class
  • lead time of detainment: approximately 1 week. Assume that the individual knows he/she is targeted. (clearly a best-case scenario)
  • reason for targeting: political dissidence, for this individual it's not a case of mistaken identity or random detainment. He/she knows what he/she said or did to upset the regime.
  • reason for not wanting to flee/smuggle out of the country: Be it stupidity or passion, although our dissident individual is a "nobody" with few followers or connections, but he/she is still resolute about the principle of playing a part with boots on the ground. Leaving the country will forsake the cause in ideological terms.

  • resources spent by regime on capture of dissident: moderate. Imagine a small, but skilled team working to detain the individual.

  • setting: present to very near future

  • protagonist: none, everything is narrated in matter-of-fact fashion, the tone is neutral

  • $\begingroup$ Regarding the close votes, I'm willing to venture that the phrasing of my question is making my question sound off-topic. However, I believe the content/essence of the question is fine. I have rephrased the question with this in mind: The emphasis is on the possibility of keeping someone with no public profile safe in a world. It is not about the actions of any one individual, but rather the feasibility for any such person inhabiting the world. Thereby, the question is appropriate as per the reality-check tag as it is commonly understood. $\endgroup$ Apr 25, 2018 at 5:51
  • $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's not WorldBuilding. This (slightly rewritten) belongs on Politics.SE. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Apr 25, 2018 at 6:00
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @RonJohn, I respect that view, no hard feelings. I just tend to view this question as a political theme to a world I'm creating. It's a kind of a realistic world, I grant you, but my world is merely inspired by reality rather than strictly based in it. I see politics SE as overly formal, and lacking the creative elements I need to weigh as I continue to build my world's political and societal landscapes. $\endgroup$ Apr 25, 2018 at 6:06
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Yes it is possible. No it is not possible. It all depends on the story. What's the general historical level? Is this Louis XIV's regime, is it Stalin's, is it Xi Jinping's? How large is this country? How rich? Do you want the escape to be possible? Who are readers rooting for, the intrepid fearless investigator or the dirty treasonous terrorist? What does "banned from all means of transportation" mean? Does the regime truly use expensive resources to track down and capture dissidents, or does it only let them believe it does? And Interpol is absolutely not what you seem to believe it is. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Apr 25, 2018 at 6:22
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP Touche! You have pointed out a weakness in the premise as it stands. I will add a clarification to clear things up. $\endgroup$ Apr 25, 2018 at 6:25

4 Answers 4


As a counter argument, the regime can do this with little or no effort, using something like China's "Social Credit" scheme. Much as you can earn reputation or credit on sites like Worldbuilding Stack Exchange, or "Likes" on Facebook, you get "Social Credit" scores by using social media and other tools approved by the Chinese government in ways that the Chinese government approves of.

This might not seem to be much of a problem, since no one has to join Worldbuilding Stack Exchange or Facebook in the West, but under a totalitarian government, everyone might be forced to have an account (indeed, providing a social media account to children when they first go to school and instructing them on the "proper" way to use it would overcome the avoidance problem). As an example, the Canadian government is pushing the "Carrot App" for citizens to put on their Smart Phones (evidently they were unaware of the irony of the name: when is the corresponding "Stick App" coming out?). The app invites users to "engag[e]in government-approved messages" (pretty Orwellian wording right there). As well:

In order to use the app, users are giving Carrot Insights and the federal government permission to “access and collect information from your mobile device, including but not limited to, geo-location data, accelerometer/gyroscope data, your mobile device’s camera, microphone, contacts, calendar and Bluetooth connectivity in order to operate additional functionalities of the Services.”

A logical progression would be for the government to demand the app be pre installed on every smartphone and device sold in Canada, and then after a suitable time, begin modifying access to government programs based on your "participation" and use of the app. No logons or "engaging in government-approved messages"? Well I guess you don't need Unemployment Insurance payments or government healthcare either.....

So your character (or any dissidents, for that matter) would have to totally disconnect from the grid. No bank accounts or means of paying or receiving payments outside of cash. No rental agreements or mortgages for housing. No shopping in supermarkets, no utilities, no telephone or email....nothing. Even being in public spaces would probably be a bad thing, nations like China and the UK have massive numbers of CCTV cameras, and China also has aggressively implemented facial recognition software on their surveillance network as well.

The alternative would be systematic identity theft by the character (quite possibly involving stealing smartphones as well) in order to temporarily evade detection. This would need to be done daily as a minimum, since your activities would raise flags the farther they deviated from existing records of the person you are imitating. Movement patterns, purchases and so on would have to closely track the stolen identity, otherwise an alert would be generated and this could possibly send the regular police or security services to come and investigate.

The last defence would to switch from passive to active opposition. While deleting your "social credit" account might be impossible, it may be possible to hack the account or add apps (which the regime would see as malware). Ad Nauseam is a currently existing app which you can apply to your browser. It automatically clicks every ad on any site you visit, which immediately turns data collection by Google Adware into hash, and degrades the value of your profile to Google (when they try to sell your data to advertisers, your preferences are buried in a welter of "noise"). Of course, unless you are an industrial strength coder and are adding something like STUXNET to your smartphone, this too will quickly be detected and alert the security services. An "Ad Nauseam" worm that rapidly infects large areas might mask your tracks, but once again, requires some pretty heavy duty skills.

So living under oppressive regimes which actively wish to harm you becomes very dangerous and time consuming. You essentially need to become a totally "grey man" and blend into the environment so you don't stand out whatsoever, or completely extract yourself. If the government randomly attacks citizens to keep the population cowed, even that isn't a true defense mechanism. Soviet era dissidents who fought the regime used paper based Samizdat demonstrate that it is possible, but a very slow and dangerous process.

  • $\begingroup$ One thing you are assuming is the dissident still has to act somewhat normal. I would argue you would have much better chances simply disconnecting from the grid and stealing whatever you needed (food, clothes) directly. This would mean they would have to track you through other means, such as spies or cameras. $\endgroup$ Apr 25, 2018 at 17:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Tracking you via the police for committing property crimes is going to be difficult to shake, you would need to be improbably good at stealing and being able to remove yourself from the geographic area. And urbanized areas in most places now have lots of surveillance devices, not just the UK or China with massive facial recognition software allied to millions of cameras. $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Apr 25, 2018 at 21:18

Please Look at my other answer, it is of much higher quality

This one is left up for reference, the other one is extremely different.

It really depends on the resources of the regime and how involved they need to be in order to not just "disappear" to avoid the regime. In the best case scenario, you could hide forever if the regime did not put a whole lot of effort into tracking this person and you just stuck around the edges of town, stealing food and clothes. Or even go into the wilderness, surviving off the land, but I believe this is going against the spirit of the question.

But if the regime really wants this person gone and has some basic surveillance, and the protagonist is not willing to go into the wilderness, then I would be suprised if our plucky protagonist survives the day. All you would need are cameras and people which can track the protagonist through crowds, and perhaps two dozen men to make sure they corner and aprehend them.

If the cameras see them go into the sewer, assuming it is possible for civilians to access, more men are required, and could just guard the possible exits of the sewers. Although this could our time about a week, it is not suggested, as the protagonist would either give up and get caught, or they would drink the water down there, and die from a fun disease.

Obviously, I am no expert in this case, but I think a decently competent regime would take a one day to roughly a week, depending on how clever and strong-willed the protagonist.

  • $\begingroup$ I appreciate your input, thanks for the answer. I was careful not to invalidate your answer, but I felt compelled to add some clarifications on how much in terms of resources the regime allocates to the capture of the protagonist. I edited my question and basically, I went for a level right in the middle, conceivably something like a small but skilled team. $\endgroup$ Apr 25, 2018 at 5:30
  • $\begingroup$ @ArashHowaida I understand if my answer did not meet your specifications, and anyways, some of the other answers did give me a few ideas, and the clarification will be helpful. I am planning on editing my answer when I have a bit more time. $\endgroup$ Apr 25, 2018 at 16:32
  • $\begingroup$ This is so different from what you originally wrote that it should be a new answer. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Apr 25, 2018 at 17:22
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn Okay, I can replace my old answer and put the new one in its own answer. $\endgroup$ Apr 25, 2018 at 17:23
  • $\begingroup$ Or just add a new one. (That's allowed.) $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Apr 25, 2018 at 17:25

Hide in Someone's Home

As with Anne Frank in the attic, your targeted nobody could stay with a family member, a friend, or a friend-of-a-friend. The more remotely connected, the better, because the regime team sent to find him (or her) will think to check family, friends, and associates. The best case might be someone that a friend-of-a-friend knows is sympathetic to the problem, and has set aside a hidden room or basement for people to hide in, even in the event of a search. This takes care of food, water, and exercise (when the regime's agents don't appear to be around, life might be almost normal).

An Abandoned, Special Place

This could be in the upper space of a mall or grocery store, a concert hall (like the Phantom of the Opera), a church, the roof of a hotel. Or it could be a secret garden forgotten between the walls of urban sprawl, or a part of sealed off or re-routed part of the underground (sewer, tunnel, or rail). What is essential is access to food, water, and other basic essentials. These might be foraged in short trips out. Or the hider could be bolder, in plain sight when the authorities appear not to be around.

A Church or Embassy

Alternatively, the target of the bad regime might petition for and be granted sanctuary in a church or foreign embassy. Especially if the target is a nobody, they might live a somewhat normal life, mindful of the occasional attempt to take him into custody if he leaves the property or is caught alone. This would be a fragile safety, because all concerned understand that the regime could, with enough provocation, throw the ideas of sanctuary aside, and come in force to make an arrest.


Given some clarification of the question, I believe I can give a better number. @RonJohn brought up a good point, as this answer is very different from my last one, and took his advice moving the answer into a new answer slot. As a side note, the regime and the task force is used throughout this question interchangeably.

Initial Concerns

First, the dissident needs to worry about how to obtain things for his survival. There are three things the dissident needs in order to survive:

  1. Food/Water. Without these, the dissident will die rather quickly. Assuming the regime can track all transactions (such as China's social credit), buying them are out of the question. Our dissident would have to steal all of the food and water he/she needs, and be able to leave from the area very quickly.
  2. Information. The dissident needs to know where to go if the regime catches up to him, where to get more food and water, where any sympathetics may be, and most importantly, the location of other towns.
  3. Medicine. The dissident is going to get sick eventually, and if the dissident does not know or have medicine, then the dissident is in trouble. The dissident cannot go to a hospital, as the regime would know who and where is is almost instantaneously. Any illness which would reduce the ability to move quickly would be a huge pain, and for the sake of the argument, once the dissident gets sick, he gets caught.

Assuming the regime has some basic cameras set up just about everywhere and they knew where the dissident was at one point, I imagine they could track him just about everywhere within an urban area. If we assume the dissident cannot leave urban area (towns and villages count as urban for the sake of the argument) and hide out in the wilderness of the country, there are two options.

Hiding In the City

This is probably the worse of the two, as within the city, I doubt on could be mobile enough to be able to avoid the cameras for long. One of the answers mentioned hiding out with friends or friends of friends, but the task force could find him easily, even if he hid with complete strangers. You could run into the sewer and hide there, but the task force then only needs to guard any possible exits if they want dissidents alive, or start throwing gasses in the sewer if they don't. That is assuming, of course, the sewers do not have cameras in the sewer as well, and civilians can go into the sewer.

Food is going to be an issue, because of the prevalent cameras. When a robbery would be reported, the regime would have another point in time to track the dissident from, and it would all be over quickly after that. Water may be less of an issue, as you could drink from the sewers, but is obviously not recommended. The dissident will most likely not survive long enough for medicine and information to be an issue.

The dissident could probably survive the month if they were really lucky and kept moving around the city, but a week is my estimate if the task force has enough men to watch the cameras and capture the dissident.

Bouncing from Town to Town

I believe someone could stay away from the task force much easier if they moved from town to town, never staying for more than a week at one place, moving as randomly as possible. This way, the task force will have to broaden the search to all surrounding urban areas, in hopes of catching a glimpse of the dissident.

Food and water would be much less of an issue, as getting away would be much easier. In a town, it could be small enough you could steal all of the food and water you could need for a week, and get out of town and on the road to the next one.

Information could be obtained by talking to innkeepers and storeowners, assuming the dissident's face is not in circulation, and if not, it could be asked from smaller children where some nearby towns are. Smaller children are less likely to recognize the dissident if his/her face is in circulation, and he/she can be dismissive if they do recognize him/her.

Medicine is still going to be an issue, as I doubt the dissident could steal some food and medicine in the same town, and food and water is going to be tight as is. Even assuming the dissident gets some medicine, there is little guarantee the dissident will know how to use it.

Realistically, he could survive a year or two until he gets sick. But theoretically, the dissident could do this for years or decades, until the dissident gets too old to keep moving at the same pace, which is unlikely, given the dissident will certainly not be living in the best of conditions.

Final Note

Obviously, I am no expert in this subject, some numbers are just pulled from my intuition, but this may give you a place to start.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .