Dissident Russian Rockers Held in Thailand Fly to Israel, Band Says

Bangkok — A dissident Russian-Belarusian rock band held in Thailand on immigration charges have left the kingdom to fly to Israel, according to a post Thursday on the group’s official Facebook page.

Bi-2 have criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin and the war in Ukraine, and their arrest sparked fears they would be deported to Russia where they would face persecution.

Thailand’s National Security Council, chaired by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, took charge of the case on Wednesday, and early Thursday the band’s Facebook page confirmed they had left the country.

“All musicians of the Bi-2 group have safely left Thailand and are heading to Tel Aviv,” read the post.

Several members of the band have dual nationalities, including Israeli and Australian.

On Wednesday, the band said singer Egor Bortnik, known by his stage name Lyova, had already left Thailand to fly to Israel.

The band were held last week after they played a gig on Phuket, a southern island popular with Russian holidaymakers.

Thai officials said they were arrested for performing without the correct work permits and transferred to an immigration detention center in Bangkok.

The organizers of the band’s Thailand concerts — which also included a show in the raucous beach resort of Pattaya — said all the necessary permits were obtained, but the band had been issued tourist visas in error.

VPI Event 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 are well known in 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.

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.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) earlier this week urged Thailand to let the band go free, saying they would face “persecution” if returned to Russia — pointing to comments by a Kremlin foreign ministry spokesperson accusing the band of “sponsoring terrorism.”

HRW said Russia’s foreign ministry last year designated frontman Bortnik a “foreign agent” for opposing the war in Ukraine.

Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya weighed into the case on Wednesday, urging Thailand to “find a solution” to ensure the band’s freedom.

“I’m worried about the situation involving the Belarus-born rock band Bi-2,” she wrote on social media platform X.

“It’s now absolutely clear that Russia is behind the operation to deport the band.” 

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