Update: Russian band Bi-2 leaves Thailand for Israel escaping potential Moscow punishment

Photo courtesy of Bangkok Post

The Russian rock band Bi-2, known for their criticism of the nation’s conflict with Ukraine, last night departed Thailand for Israel.

This decision came after Thai authorities threatened to deport them to Moscow due to their work for working on the island of Phuket without a valid permit, according to both the band and the Royal Thai Police. Human rights activists had expressed fears that the seven band members would face severe consequences if they were returned to Russia.

The band, some of whose members hold dual Russian-Israeli citizenship, previously resided in Israel during the 1990s. Deputy National Police Chief, Surachate “Big Joke” Hakparn, disclosed that the band requested to be deported to Israel, where they would be free from the risk of punishment in Russia.

Big Joke confirmed that all band members travelled to Israel around 11pm last night. The band also announced on their Facebook page that all members had successfully left Thailand and were on their way to Tel Aviv.

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Bi-2 has gained recognition for its outspoken critique of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Last year, lead singer Igor Bortnick was labelled a foreign agent by Russia’s Justice Ministry following his online criticism of President Vladimir Putin, reported Bangkok Post.

Earlier this week, Thai immigration officials gave the band the option to choose their deportation destination, if they felt unsafe returning to Russia. This decision was applauded by Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

“Human rights concerns won out in Thailand’s decision to let all the Bi-2 band members travel to the safety of Israel.”

ORIGINAL STORY: Rock-solid plea: Don’t send Bi-2 back to Russia, urges Human Rights Watch director

A Human Rights Watch director pleaded with the Thai authorities not to deport a Russian rock band back to their homeland.

Elaine Pearson, the Asia Director of the Human Rights Watch division, revealed that the Russian-Belarusian rock band Bi-2 faces persecution for their outspoken public criticism of the Russian government if Thailand deports them back home.

The Thai police arrested the band for allegedly performing a concert without the proper work authorisations. Subsequently, they were transferred to an immigration detention centre pending deportation. Pearson wasted no time in demanding the release of the band, which was formed in 1988 in Bobruisk, Belarus.

“The Thai authorities should immediately release the detained members of Bi-2 and allow them to go on their way,

“Under no circumstances should they be deported to Russia, where they could face arrest or worse for their outspoken criticisms of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s war in Ukraine.”

The lineup of Bi-2 comprises seven members, including Russian citizens and dual nationals from Russia, Israel, and Australia.

Bi-2 took to Facebook, on Sunday, January 28, to reveal that Thai police had detained them on January 24, shortly after their performance in Phuket, southern Thailand. Allegedly, the police cited inadequate legal permits for their performance and confiscated their passports.

On January 25, following a night in a Phuket detention facility, the band faced trial. The court levied a fine, which they promptly paid. Bi-2 lamented the lack of an interpreter during their encounters with the police and in court, claiming they couldn’t comprehend the Thai-language court documents related to their case.

Subsequently, the group was transferred from Phuket to an immigration detention centre in Bangkok, where they await deportation to their respective countries.

The Russian government perceives Bi-2 as a national security threat. Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, insinuated that the band had allegedly denounced Russia and expressed support for Ukraine.

In July 2022, a Russian Parliament member accused the band of “discrediting [the Russian] military” and urged the Federal Security Service to investigate their “anti-Russian stance” and attempts at “discrediting” Russia.

In May 2023, Russia’s Justice Ministry labelled Bi-2’s frontman, Egor Bortnik (stage name: Leva), a “foreign agent” for opposing Russia’s actions in Ukraine and making negative statements about the country and its authorities.

Bi-2 contended in their statement that “external [Russian] pressures significantly contributed to our detention,” citing retaliation for their creativity, views, and stance.

While it remains uncertain if Russian authorities have sought the band’s forcible return, amidst escalating repression in Russia, authorities have employed transnational repression to target activists and critics abroad.

As a signatory to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Thailand is legally bound not to deport individuals facing the threat of torture. Thailand’s Act on Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearances, enacted in February 2023, codifies this obligation domestically, forbidding the expulsion of individuals at risk of torture or mistreatment.

Human Rights Watch emphasised that the Thai government must not deport any band members to Russia. Doing so would likely subject them to arbitrary arrest, detention, mistreatment, politically motivated charges, and unfair trials, reported hrw.org.

Pearson underscored the gravity of the situation, expressing concern that Russian authorities seek retribution against these artists for their dissent.

“The Thai government should not sanction the deportation of these activists to a place where persecution awaits.”

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Mitch Connor

Mitch is a Bangkok resident, having relocated from Southern California, via Florida in 2022. He studied journalism before dropping out of college to teach English in South America. After returning to the US, he spent 4 years working for various online publishers before moving to Thailand.

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