Russian rock band Bi-2 leaves Thailand for Israel after immigration violation

Rights groups had warned that members of the band could face persecution if deported to Russia.
By Nontarat Phaicharoen for BenarNews
2024.02.01
Bangkok
Russian rock band Bi-2 leaves Thailand for Israel after immigration violation Rights groups had warned that members of the band could face persecution if deported to Russia.
AP

A Russian rock band detained in Thailand for violating immigration law has been deported to Israel, amid fears members could face persecution if sent to Moscow for criticizing the Ukraine war.

Thai immigration officials on Thursday confirmed that members of Bi-2 had flown out of the country. 

“We have received reports that they have already departed, heading to Israel,” Pol. Lt. Gen. Phanthana Nuchanart, deputy commander of the Immigration Bureau, told BenarNews.

The band also said on Facebook that all of its members had safely left the kingdom and were on their way to Tel Aviv.

Bi-2 are known for their vocal criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the war in Ukraine. In May 2023, Russia’s Justice Ministry designated the frontman of the band, Egor Bortnik (whose stage name is Leva), a “foreign agent” for opposing Moscow’s invasion, according to Human Rights Watch. 

Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, welcomed the decision to release the band. 

“However, the Thai authorities must now investigate the circumstances of their detention and ensure that they are not subjected to any further harassment,” he said in a statement.

The band was arrested on the resort island of Phuket on Jan. 24, shortly after performing a concert. Thai authorities said the members were detained because they did not have the correct permits to perform and were transferred to a immigration center in Bangkok.

Concert organizer VPI Event said in a statement Bi-2 was incorrectly issued with tourist visas, but added immigration authorities had put unusual effort into going after the artists.

The Russian consulate had also launched a campaign to cancel the band’s concerts from December, the company said.

Rights groups had earlier warned that members could face politically motivated criminal charges if deported to Russia.

“Human rights concerns won out in Thailand’s decision to let all the Bi-2 band members travel to the safety of Israel,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement Thursday.  

“Bangkok was right to refuse Moscow’s demands to send these activist artists back to face certain persecution and worse in Russia. But while this particular Russian trans-national repression gambit failed, there is little doubt the Kremlin’s rights abusing autocrats will keep trying to silence exiled Russian critics by hook or by crook, wherever they can.” 

Phanthana said their detention was made “solely on the grounds of work permit issues, with no political factors involved.” 

Bi-2’s seven members include Russian citizens as well as dual nationals, including from Israel and Australia. 

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news service.

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