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‘Orchestrated by Russian diplomats’ Arrested in Thailand, members of the anti-war rock group Bi-2 could now be facing deportation to Russia

Source: Meduza
Update: All the members of anti-war Russian-Belarusian band Bi-2 have been deported to Israel, the group’s lawyer told Meduza.

Seven members of the anti-war Russian-Belarusian rock band Bi-2 were arrested in Thailand following a January 24 concert in Phuket and are now facing deportation. While some members have multiple citizenships or aren’t Russian nationals, three of the group’s members only have Russian passports. The band’s lawyer told independent outlet Mediazona that the Russian authorities are demanding they be deported to Russia on a direct flight.

Bi-2 have consistently taken an anti-war stance and have spoken out against Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Their concerts were canceled in Russian cities after they refused to perform in front of a pro-war banner. Additionally, Russia’s Justice Ministry has declared the band’s lead singer, Igor Bortnik, a “foreign agent.” During a tour abroad in May 2023, Bortnik announced he wouldn’t be returning to Russia.

The musicians are currently being held in a communal cell designed for 80 people in a Bangkok immigration detention center, where they’re awaiting a decision from authorities. Music journalist Mikhail Kozyrev described the conditions as “a cage under the scorching sun, with temperatures reaching 35-40 degrees [Celsius, 95-104 degrees Fahrenheit].”

The band’s representatives said Bi-2 members were arrested because event organizers filed improper paperwork, though Bi-2 emphasized that they conduct all their concerts “in accordance with local laws and practices.” The company VPI Event, which organized the Bi-2 performance, admitted that it had applied for the wrong type of visas for the musicians but stressed that in previous cases, Thai immigration authorities had only issued fines to event organizers when there were issues and had never arrested artists.

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Russian opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov, who is friends with members of Bi-2, asserted that the situation is being orchestrated by Russian diplomats. According to Gudkov, Russia’s consul in Phuket Vladimir Sosnov personally insisted that the band members be deported. An anonymous source cited by The Guardian also said that the musicians were arrested at Sosnov’s request. According to the source, the Russian authorities gave their Thai counterparts a “blacklist” of Russian musicians they want deported to Russia — something Gudkov has also alleged. Gudkov believes the musicians could then be put on trial in Russia as an intimidation tactic against artists who speak out against the war. Russian Ambassador to Thailand Evgeny Tomikhin denied Moscow’s involvement in the arrests.

Initially, the Thai authorities decided to deport four of the musicians to Israel, reported the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. However, on January 30, under pressure from high-ranking Russian diplomats, Thai authorities reversed their decision. According to the band’s lawyer, Israel and Australia are willing to repatriate their citizens. On the evening of January 30, Bortnik flew from Thailand to Israel. The remaining musicians were denied departure, despite prior arrangements, Bi-2 representatives say. A new round of diplomatic negotiations is planned for January 31.

Under Thai law, individuals facing deportation are sent directly to their country of citizenship, an immigration specialist told Meduza. According to Thai law, if a person holds multiple citizenships, they’re deported to the country of the passport they used to enter Thailand, reports news outlet RBC. Gudkov noted that five out of the seven musicians entered Thailand using Russian passports.

Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, called for the Bi-2 members’ “immediate release,” reported The Guardian. “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,” she said.

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