Members of a Russian-Belarusian rock band critical of Moscow are detained in Thailand where they were giving concerts, with the risk of being deported to Russia where they may “be arrested or worse,” according to a group of defense of human rights.
“Four or five people” from the Bi-2 group are in a detention center in the capital Bangkok, a police source told AFP on Wednesday. The band announced on Telegram on Wednesday that lead singer Egor Botnik had flown to Israel, but that "the other band members were still in an immigration prison in a cramped cell for 80 people." Their arrest took place last week in Phuket (south), where the group was giving a concert as part of an international tour.
“Seven or eight” people were apprehended for a work visa problem, explained the Thai authorities, who confirmed the possibility that they would be deported. The Bi-2 group, famous in Russia, has taken a stand against the war in Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin, leading to accusations of supporting terrorism from the Kremlin.
The Russian-speaking group includes seven members, some of whom hold Israeli and Australian citizenship in addition to Russian citizenship, Human Rights Watch said. “They must under no circumstances be deported to Russia, where they risk arrest or worse for their virulent criticism,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia director of the human rights NGO, in a statement released Tuesday.
Moscow has been repressing critical voices for years, but the campaign of repression took on considerable proportions with the launch of the offensive against Ukraine. “It is now clear that Russia is behind this operation to deport the group. I ask the Thai government and democratic nations to find a solution to guarantee the freedom of these courageous musicians,” reacted Belarusian opponent in exile Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa, on X (ex-Twitter).
The organizer of the concerts in Thailand, VPI Event, assured that the group had obtained the necessary permits, but that the authorities had issued tourist visas in error. Since December, the Russian consulate has tried to cancel the planned dates, the promoter continued, in a Facebook message posted overnight from Tuesday to Wednesday. “We are doing everything possible to free artists, but we face unprecedented pressures at every level,” VPI Event said. Many Russians have established themselves on the tourist island of Phuket, as Thailand seeks to strengthen its relations with Moscow.