Members of exiled Russian anti-war rock group facing deportation from Thailand

Several members of dissident Russian rock group Bi-2 are facing deportation from Thailand following their detention last week for performing without work visas in Phuket.

All seven of the band’s members were detained on 24 January and fined for breaching Thai immigration rules. They have been in custody ever since, pending a decision on their extradition. As prominent critics of the war in Ukraine, the group has been attempting to avoid deportation there, where they fear they could be prosecuted.

While five of the band hold Russian passports, two others hold an Israeli and an Australian passport respectively.

Israeli news outlet Ynetnews reported late on Monday that the band would be deported to Israel instead of Russia, but Bi-2 representatives later said that the decision to deport them to Israel had been reversed “after a visit from the Russian Embassy”. The statement added that the band members remain in detention at the immigration centre “in a shared cell with 80 people”.

The detention and their looming deportation is linked to the group’s political views, Bi-2 said in a statement on Monday.

“The spectacle surrounding recent events suggests that external pressure played a role in our arrest,” they wrote.

The band, which is best known internationally for performing on the soundtrack to the 1990s cult classic Brother, was formed in Belarus in 1998 and has enjoyed success in Russia for the past two decades.

On Saturday a spokesperson from the Russian Foreign Ministry said that Bi-2 was “sponsoring terrorism through their support of Ukraine”. In May the Russian Justice Ministry added lead singer Yegor “Lyova” Bortnik to its list of so-called “foreign agents”, on the grounds that he had “criticised the special military operation, spoken negatively about the Russian Federation, its citizens and the government”.

The band’s detention has raised suspicion of foul-play by the Russian authorities. Opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov, accused Russia’s consul in Phuket, Vladimir Sosnov, of handing the Thai authorities a “black list” of musicians whose deportation would be of interest to the Russian government.

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