Russian rock band critical of Ukraine war faces deportation from Thailand

Bi-2 members, held for performing without permits, have criticised Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and President Vladimir Putin.

Bi-2 performs at Preto e Prata Hall in in Estoril, Portugal [File: Horacio Villalobos/Corbis via Getty Images]Published On 31 Jan 202431 Jan 2024

Members of a dissident Russian-Belarusian rock band critical of Moscow’s war in Ukraine have been jailed in Thailand, with growing calls to not deport them to Russia.

Progressive rock group Bi-2’s members remained locked up on Wednesday after being detained for performing without work permits in Thailand. The group has spoken out against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Keep reading

list of 4 itemsend of list

The group was detained last week after it played a gig in Phuket, a southern Thai island popular with foreign tourists including many Russians.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Bi-2 will face “persecution” if returned to Russia, and referred to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson accusing the band of “sponsoring terrorism”.

A post on the seven-member band’s official Telegram channel on Wednesday said singer Yegor Bortnik, known by his stage name Lyova, had left Thailand.

“Lyova Bi-2 flew to Israel, the rest of the group members are still in a migration prison in a cramped cell for 80 people,” the post read.

The detained musicians “include Russian citizens as well as dual nationals of Russia and other countries, including Israel and Australia,” HRW said in a statement on Tuesday. Those holding only Russian citizenship are thought to be most at risk.

Thai officials confirmed the band’s arrest last week and said they now face possible deportation.

“This usually results in deportation to their country of origin but there is some discretion [about the destination],” said Kriangkrai Ariyaying, the superintendent of Phuket’s Immigration Bureau.

The country’s National Security Council “is looking into the matter, seeing what are details including the band members’ names and nationalities,” Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara told reporters on Wednesday.

Security members stand guard outside the Immigration Detention Centre in Bangkok, Thailand, where members of Bi-2 are being held [Sakchai Lalit/AP]

VPI Event, which organises concerts in Thailand, said all the necessary permits were obtained, but the band had been given tourist visas in error.

“Typically, in such cases, migration services contact the organiser of the event to apply appropriate sanctions. But in this case, the attention of the migration services was focused exclusively on the artists,” VPI said, adding that the Russian consulate had attempted to cancel Bi-2’s concerts in December.

HRW said Thailand has an international legal obligation to not forcibly return anyone who faces the threat of torture if returned.

“Under no circumstances should they be deported to Russia, where they could face arrest or worse for their outspoken criticisms” of Putin and the war, said Elaine Pearson, HRW’s Asia director.

HRW also said that “amid repression in Russia reaching new heights, Russian authorities have used transnational repression – abuses committed against nationals beyond a government’s jurisdiction – to target activists and government critics abroad with violence and other unlawful actions”.

Self-exile

Bi-2 is popular in Russia. Several of its concerts were cancelled in 2022 after the band refused to play at a venue with banners supporting the war in Ukraine, following which the group left Russia.

One of the band’s founders has openly denounced the Putin government, saying it makes him feel “only disgust” and accusing the leader of having “destroyed” Russia.

Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya urged Thailand to “find a solution” to the band’s visa issue.

“I’m worried about the situation involving the Belarus-born rock band Bi-2,” she wrote on X.

“It’s now absolutely clear that Russia is behind the operation to deport the band.”

Bi-2 has more than one million subscribers to its YouTube channel and 376,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies