Human rights advocates warned against sending Bi-2 to Russia where they could be persecuted for opposing Ukraine war.
Thailand has deported members of a dissident Russian-Belarusian rock band critical of Moscow’s war in Ukraine to Israel after they were detained for performing without a permit.
Members of Bi-2 left “safely” for Tel Aviv on Wednesday night, they said on their Facebook page. Human rights advocates had warned the group would face severe persecution for speaking out against Russia’s war in Ukraine if they were sent back to Russia.
Thai authorities had detained the members of Bi-2 for working at the resort island of Phuket without a permit.
The fate of the band provoked an international outcry, leading Thai immigration officials to give the band the choice of being deported to another destination if they felt unsafe to return to Russia. Thailand’s National Security Council, chaired by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, took charge of the case on Wednesday.
Several members of the self-exiled group, which had been based in Israel in the 1990s, have dual nationalities, including Israeli and Australian.
Deputy Police Chief Surachate Hakparn confirmed the band had requested to be deported to Israel.
The band was detained last week after they played a gig on Phuket, a southern island popular with Russian holidaymakers.
Thai officials said they were held for performing without the correct work permits and transferred to an immigration detention centre in Bangkok.
VPI Event, the organisers of the band’s Thailand concerts – which also included a show in Pattaya – said all the necessary permits were obtained, but the band had been issued tourist visas in error.
VPI accused the Russian consulate of having waged a campaign to cancel the concerts since December and said they had faced “unprecedented pressure” as they sought the band’s release.
Bi-2, which was founded in Minsk, Belarus, is popular in Russia.
Russia’s Ministry of Justice labelled lead singer Yegor Bortnick a “foreign agent” after he criticised President Vladimir Putin online last year.
One of the band’s founders has openly denounced the Putin government, saying it makes him feel “only disgust” and accusing the long-serving leader of having “destroyed” Russia.
Several of their concerts were cancelled in 2022 after they refused to play at a venue with banners supporting the war in Ukraine, after which they left Russia.
“Even though they [are] all safe, we still want Thai authorities to respect arrest procedures strictly,” human rights lawyer Pornpen Khongkachonkiet told the AFP news agency.
“It could [have] happened to me, you, and others without international attention as this case got.”
Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had recognised “the importance of upholding human rights principles” by not sending the band to “face persecution” in Russia.
Very good news that all band members of the Russian-Belorussian rock band Bi-2 were able to leave #Thailand, & go safely to #Israel. Appreciate that @MFAThai recognized the importance of upholding human rights principles, & didn’t send them to face persecution & worse in #Russia. pic.twitter.com/JONpMmCRMX
— Phil Robertson (@Reaproy) February 1, 2024
Robertson said that while “Thailand is vulnerable to effective manipulation by larger states pursuing transnational repression”, international pressure – and global economic concerns – had played a significant role.
“Thailand realised that they didn’t need to make a lot of enemies by doing Russia’s bidding in this case.”