Anti-Putin rock band vocalist deported to Israel after detention in Thailand

Bangkok, Jan 31 (EFE).- The vocalist of a Belarusian rock band, Bi-2, critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was deported to Israel after being detained in Thailand along with other band members, some of whom could be sent to Russia.

The group confirmed that singer Yegor Bortnik, who was born in Belarus but has Israeli citizenship, “flew to Israel” while the rest of the band was “still in a migration prison in a tight cell of 80 people” in Thailand in a Facebook post late Tuesday.

Bi-2’s members include Russian citizens as well as dual nationals of Russia and other countries, including Israel and Australia, the group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement on Tuesday.

The rock band, self-exiled due to its opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, was detained by the Thailand police on Jan. 24 on the tourist island of Phuket, in the east of the country, for allegedly performing without necessary permits.

Bi-2 attributed the error in obtaining permits to the event’s organizers and pointed out that the group had performed twice in Thailand in 2023 without any problems.

The organizers, a company called VPI Event, said there was an error in issuing visas for the artists that caused a violation of Thailand’s immigration law.

“We would like to emphasize that the responsibility for issuing visas according to the terms of the contract lies exclusively with our company. The B(i)-2 Group is not responsible for the mistake,” VPI Event said in a Facebook post on Tuesday.

The band said they paid a fine to the Thai authorities, who had decided on Monday to deport the seven band members to Israel.

But “after the visit of high-ranking diplomats from the Russian consulate” on Tuesday, their deportation to Israel was cancelled, the group said.

“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,” HRW’s Asia Director, Elaine Pearson, said.

“In May 2023, Russia designated Bortnik as a foreign agent for opposing the ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine, (and) making negative statements about Russia, its citizens and authorities,” HRW said.

Bortnik and Alexandr Uman formed Bi-2 in Belarus in 1988.

The band has achieved significant success in the neighboring Russia. EFE


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