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Thailand may deport visiting dissident rock band that criticized war in Ukraine back to Russia

BANGKOK (AP) — A visiting dissident rock band that has been critical of Moscow’s war in Ukraine and whose members were arrested last week in Thailand might face deportation to Russia, according to human rights advocates and fans on Monday.

Five of the seven musicians playing with the progressive rock band, Bi-2, traveled using Russian passports, Police Lt. Pakpoom Rojanawipak told The Associated Press. At least four of the members are reportedly Israeli nationals, including the two founders, Aleksandr “Shura” Uman and Yegor “Lyova” Bortnik. The second is also an Australian citizen.

Russia has a reputation for cracking down on members of the cultural community critical of the war, even those working abroad. The Kremlin had previously singled out Uman and Bortnik for not supporting its military operation in Ukraine.

The band members were arrested on Thursday on the southern resort island of Phuket after playing a concert, allegedly for not having the proper working papers.

On their official Facebook page, they said all their “concerts are held in accordance with local laws and practices.”

After paying fines of 3,000 baht (about $85) each, they were kept in the custody of immigration police, who sent them to the Immigration Detention Center in the capital, Bangkok, according to Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch and reports in the Israeli press.

Self-exiled Russian opposition politician and a friend of Bi-2, Dmitry Gudkov, told the Russian-language service of Australia’s SBS radio that he believed Moscow was exerting pressure on Thailand to have the band members deported to Russia.

His concern was echoed by Sunai, who confirmed that all seven arrested musicians were still being held Monday at the Bangkok jail.

“Members of the dissident Bi-2 rock band are likely to face harsh prosecution and other grave dangers in the hands of Russian authorities,” Sunai told The Associated Press. “Under no circumstances should Bangkok hand them over to Moscow, which will blatantly breach both international and Thai laws.”

There was no immediate comment from Thailand's immigration police.

Marjana Semkina of the band Iamthemorning wrote on social media platform X, formerly Twitter, that her fellow band member Gleb Kolyadin was one of the seven arrested. Semkina, a Russian-born singer-songwriter who lives in Britain, said Kolyadin, a temporary British resident, had been sitting in as a keyboard player with Bi-2.

She described Bi-2 in her post as having been “inconvenient for (the) Russian government for a while 'cause they are a very big band and they are very obviously anti-war and anti-Putin so they moved out of the country a while ago, just like Gleb did.”