Russian rock band BI-2 has been at the center of an international controversy after Thai authorities detained them last week. The band’s vocal criticism of Russia’s war in Ukraine likely prompted their arrest. After nearly a week in detention, BI-2 departed Thailand early Thursday, not for Russia but for Israel.
BI-2 is a popular Russian alternative rock band originally formed in 1988 in Bobruisk, Belarus. The band was induction into the Russian Rock Hall of Fame in 2022. They have a history of speaking out against government oppression.
Vocalist and keyboardist Gleb Kolyadin has been especially vocal since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. He has called the war “a catastrophe and a crime.” The band played multiple concerts to raise funds for Ukrainian refugees last year.
BI-2 traveled to Phuket, Thailand in late January 2024 for a vacation. On January 27th, immigration police arrested Kolyadin along with bandmates Nikolai Komyagin and Viktor Smolski. Authorities revoked their visas and detained them at an immigration detention center.
Accusations of Kremlin Intimidation
Critics soon accused Moscow of orchestrating the arrests to intimidate Russian artists criticizing Putin’s war abroad.
Prominent Russian cultural figures denounced the detention as “a glaring injustice and lawlessness.” Over 100 Russian actors, directors, and producers signed an open letter demanding Thailand free BI-2. Signatories included director Kirill Serebrennikov and rock musician Andrei Makarevich.
Investigative group Bellingcat published evidence suggesting Russian diplomats pressured Thai authorities to detain BI-2. They likely wanted Thailand to deport them back to Russia.
Amnesty International warned BI-2 could face “surveillance, harassment, and imprisonment” if Thailand expelled them to Russia.
International Pressure on Thailand
The detention prompted outrage from international rights groups and western governments. Human Rights Watch warned Thailand against forcing BI-2 back to Russia against their will.
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the arrests “call into question Thailand’s claimed support for democratic principles and commitment to international law.”
The European Union delegation in Thailand called the arrests “worrying” in a Twitter statement.
Facing mounting external criticism, Thailand’s national security council announced it would probe the detention. The immigration bureau chief claimed BI-2 had not broken any laws.
|“Call into question Thailand’s claimed support for democratic principles and commitment to international law”
|Called the arrests “worrying”
|Human Rights Watch
|Warned Thailand against deporting BI-2 to Russia
Deportation to Israel
Early Thursday morning, Thai authorities transported Kolyadin, Komyagin, and Smolski from the detention center to Bangkok’s airport. But rather than Russia, the band flew to Tel Aviv, arriving in Israel after midnight.
Friends of the band in Israel, including musician Andrei Makarevich, greeted them at the airport. Makarevich previously pledged to help BI-2 reach Israel if Thailand deported them.
BI-2’s surprise deportation to Israel likely avoided what could have been imprisonment, surveillance, or worse had Thailand expelled them directly to Russia.
The band broke their silence in a social media statement upon arriving in Israel. They did not provide details but thanked supporters for helping reunite them with their families. Immigration paperwork issues had apparently separated Kolyadin from his wife and newborn baby stranded in Phuket.
Israeli officials have not commented publicly on BI-2’s sudden asylum. But Israel likely granted them emergency humanitarian visas. Thailand also has no formal extradition treaty with Israel.
- Ukraine: Ukrainian ambassador to Thailand Vasyl Pokotylo welcomed the news that BI-2 avoided deportation to Russia.
- Russia: The Russian embassy in Bangkok expressed “disappointment” over Israel granting BI-2 visas.
- Thailand: Prime Minister Sulak Siwarak said Thailand handled BI-2’s detention “by the book” and denied Russian influence.
- Israel: Israeli musicians and cultural figures rejoiced at BI-2’s safe arrival. Activist group Breaking the Silence said, “we welcome all those persecuted for their opposition to the occupation of Ukraine.”
Now safely in Israel, the fate of BI-2 remains unclear. They could claim asylum to remain long-term. Or they may proceed to another country less likely to deport them to Russia.
Their detention and sudden deportation sets a dangerous precedent. Experts warn authoritarian regimes like Russia now feel emboldened targeting overseas critics with impunity.
A Chatham House analyst told NBC News: “The message it sends is that if you’re going to criticize Russia, you’re not safe anywhere.”
With the Ukraine war still raging, the saga of Russian rockers BI-2 highlights the Kremlin’s escalating crackdown on dissent – even beyond its borders.
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