PUBLISHED : 31 Jan 2024 at 11:13
UPDATED : 31 Jan 2024 at 15:38
A Russian-Belarusian rock band has found itself in a precarious situation as its members languish in a Bangkok prison following their arrest while performing in Phuket, AFP reported, as an international clamour continued against their potential deportation to Russia.
Authorities apprehended members of the Bi-2 band, who have vocally opposed President Vladimir Putin and his involvement in the Ukrainian conflict, following their concert in Phuket last week. Human Rights Watch (HRW) warns of the dire consequences they could face if sent back to Russia, citing statements from a Kremlin spokesperson accusing the band of supporting terrorism.
In a recent update on the band’s official Telegram channel, it was revealed that singer Egor Bortnik, also known as Lyova, has departed Thailand for Israel, leaving the rest of the group detained in a cramped cell alongside scores of others.
Officials acknowledge the arrest of “seven or eight” individuals for performing without proper work permits, hinting at potential deportation. According to a police source, “four or five” detainees are currently held in a Bangkok detention centre.
The band members may be extradited if they broke the law, Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara said later on Wednesday.
“If people do nothing wrong, we cannot extradite them,” he said.” This is subject to international law. But if they are wrongdoers, action must be taken.” Mr Parnree said the National Security Council was finding facts about the matter.
However, Thai media reported that a senior immigration police official had cast doubt that any band members would be extradited. “Those wanted for political or other reasons won’t be sent back to Russia,” Deputy Chief of Immigration Police Pol Maj Gen Pantama Nutnarot reportedly said.
One of the seven band members had already been deported to a third country, he reportedly added, while the others can request help from the UNHCR and if they hold dual nationality, can seek to return to the other country of their citizenship.
The organisers, VPI Event, claimed they had secured all necessary permits, but the band was issued tourist visas erroneously, resulting in their detention. VPI asserted that immigration officers focused solely on penalising the artists, ignoring the usual protocol of contacting event organisers in such situations, AFP reported.
Allegations have surfaced of pressure exerted by the Russian consulate to thwart the band’s performances since December. VPI has lamented the obstacles encountered in securing the artists’ release, citing unprecedented challenges at every turn while expressing hope for a swift resolution.
While several members holding dual nationality, including Israeli and Australian citizenship, the band enjoys significant recognition in Russia. Their stance against supporting the war in Ukraine led to the cancellation of numerous concerts in 2022, prompting their departure from Russia.
A co-founder of the band has publicly criticised the Putin regime, expressing profound disillusionment and accusing the longstanding leader of causing harm to Russia. HRW has underscored Russia’s track record of targeting dissenters abroad and implored Thai authorities to refrain from deporting the band members, fearing repercussions for their outspoken criticisms.
Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, called for the release of the detained members, saying they should be allowed to depart freely and asserting that deportation to Russia could subject them to arrest or worse, given their outspoken opposition to President Putin and Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya urged the government not to deport the band to Russia.
“I’m worried about the situation involving the Belarus-born rock band Bi-2,” she wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
“It’s now absolutely clear that Russia is behind the operation to deport the band.”