Members of the self-exiled Russian rock group Bi-2, known for opposing Ukraine’s invasion, face possible deportation from Thailand to Moscow.
Fans fear that the band, which has spoken out against the invasion, might face harsh treatment upon returning to Russia, raising concerns among their supporters.
This incident is seen as a potential warning to artists who denounce Vladimir Putin while successfully engaging with international audiences despite Russian efforts to isolate them.
Thai authorities detained seven Bi-2 members in Phuket last week following a performance, citing permit issues.
Bi-2 issued a statement asserting their compliance with local regulations at concerts. They mentioned that the local organizer mishandled the paperwork, a minor mistake resulting in each member being fined approximately $84, which they paid immediately.
However, post-trial, Thai immigration police detained the band members and transported them to Bangkok, where a decision on their deportation awaits.
“We have not been presented with any additional charges”, the band representatives said in a message shared on Vkontakte, Russia’s version of Facebook.
“The situation and the noise around it suggest that outside pressure played a significant role in our detention. We know that the reasons for this pressure are our creativity, our views, our position”.
Dmitry Gudkov, an opposition politician in contact with Bi-2, mentioned Russian pressure on Thailand to deport the musicians. The band also reported not receiving a translator during their trial, leaving them unable to understand the legal documents.
Vladimir Sosnov, Russia’s consul general in Phuket, informed RIA Novosti, a Russian state news agency, that consular officials weren’t involved in the deportation procedure.
Sosnov noted that five of the seven detained band members are Russian passport holders, while the others entered Thailand on Israeli and Australian passports.
Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, commented on the challenges antiwar artists face touring abroad, linking it to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“No one wants the problems that can arise with people who sponsor terrorism”, she told Podyem media. “The terrorist attacks committed by Zelensky’s ghouls horrify the whole world”.
Currently, there are no legal actions against Bi-2 in Russia, leaving no grounds for extradition. However, supporters fear potential criminal charges in Russia due to their antiwar statements.
The situation presents a diplomatic challenge for Thailand. Several Bi-2 members are dual Israeli-Russian nationals, giving them the option to contest their deportation destination.
Two others, as per the band’s statement, are not Russian nationals and cannot be deported to Russia.
Bi-2, originally from Belarus, is among the most successful Russian-language rock bands post-Soviet Union.
In 2022, they refused to play at a venue displaying pro-war, pro-Putin imagery. After their concerts in Russia were canceled, the band chose self-exile.
Artists remaining in Russia post-February 2022 had to tacitly support the war or avoid discussing it. Those who left lost contracts and audiences but gained freedom of speech and found new international and Russian audiences abroad.
Prior to Bi-2’s detention, Thailand had canceled performances of two Russian antiwar comedians, Ruslan Beliy and Maxim Galkin, both labeled “foreign agents” by Russia, a term often used against opposition figures, artists, journalists, and activists.