In China, even your name is not safe


There’s a new way in China that police are disappearing human rights defenders and it’s totally outside the law.

They are taking away their names.

Our brand new report, China’s Vanishing Suspects, out today and the first in a three-part series called Access Denied, investigates how police are forcing victims, many of whom are human rights defenders, to take a fake name in pre-trail detention, stopping them from seeing a lawyer. Under Chinese law you have the right to see a lawyer of your choice within 48 hours of being registered in pre-trial detention but:

  • with a fake name your lawyer cannot find you
  • with a fake name, your family and friends, who have the right to send you essential supplies like food and medicines, cannot find you.

In around two thirds of the cases in our research, the victims never saw a lawyer of their choice.

Read the report in English here and in Chinese here (PDF downloads).

Disappeared in detention under a fake name, you are more at risk of torture, mistreatment and coercion to confess. The use of fake names also helps the police keep details of the detention of sensitive human rights cases from being leaked to the outside by other detainees and may also allow them to cover up cases where they badly hurt or kill the victim.

Our research showed that many of those who were forced to take a fake name in detention had also spent months in China’s secret RSDL jails, where they were kept incommunicado and in total isolation except for their guards and interrogators. By releasing them into detention under a fake name, they remain disappeared for much longer, extending the agony for both the victim and their family.

China’s RSDL or Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location has been condemned by several UN agencies as tantamount to torture and involuntary disappearance.

After the black months of RSDL are over, and you still can’t contact your loved one, some families simply fear the worst–that they have died in detention.

When human rights activist Zhai Yanmin was moved from RSDL into detention in Tianjin he was falsely registered under the fake name Zhai Tiencheng. When his wife tried to find him, the detention centre said there was no one called Zhai Yanmin on their books. His father, who was 97 years old at the time was desperate to find his son and he pleaded with Zhai’s wife to take him out in his wheelchair every day, even at night, to search the streets for him.

Victims are typically forced to live with a fake name for up to six months, but it can be years. Human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang’s six months of RSDL was followed by almost three years and four months living with a fake name in two different detention centres, even after his sentencing.


Source: Safeguard Defenders