Dissident Russian rock band in Israel after deportation from Thailand under Kremlin pressure

Speaking in the arrivals hall of Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, guitarist and vocalist Alexander "Shura" Uman of the band Bi-2 said that the band is performing well and is very tired after their experience. He also described the conditions he and his band faced in a Thai prison as "horrible".

“We are independent and we will continue to move forward,” Uman said.

Uman thanked Israeli, American and Australian diplomats as well as human rights organizations for their work in bringing him to Israel. A handful of supporters greeted his early-morning flight to Israel with signs welcoming him to Israel.

On Wednesday night, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz praised the diplomatic efforts that enabled all the musicians to leave Thailand for Israel. A band member with Israeli citizenship returned on Wednesday morning.

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Thai Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Kanchana Patarachok acknowledged that all the bands had left the country "in accordance with their wishes and Thai immigration laws and regulations".

Seven members of Bi-2 were arrested last week after playing a concert on the southern resort island of Phuket for allegedly not having proper working papers. On Facebook, they said that all their concerts "are conducted in accordance with local laws and practices." Phuket is a popular destination for Russian expatriates and tourists. After paying the fine, the band members were sent to an immigration detention center in Bangkok.

Police Lieutenant Pakpoom Rojanavipak told The Associated Press that five of the seven BI-2 musicians entered Thailand using Russian passports. At least four members are reportedly Israeli citizens, including the two founders, Uman and Yegor "Lyova" Bortnik. The second one is also an Australian citizen.

Bi-2 has 1.01 million subscribers on its YouTube channel and 376,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.

Russia has denied that it had a hand in the attempt to deport the band. However, Moscow is known to crack down on artists who criticize the war, even those working abroad. The Kremlin had previously isolated Uman and Bortnik.

Andrei Lugovoi, a member of the lower house of Russia's parliament, called the band members "scum" for their criticism of the war in Ukraine. Britain has accused Lugovoi of involvement in the death of former Russian spy Alexander LitvinenkoWho died in London in 2006 after being poisoned with radioactive polonium—210 ml of tea.

Activists applauded the decision to allow the band to visit Israel.

"Bangkok made the right decision to reject Moscow's demands to deport these activist artists back to Russia to face some persecution and even worse persecution," said Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director at Human Rights Watch.

Associated Press writers Emma Burrows in Tallin, Estonia, and Grant Peck in Bangkok contributed to this report.

Copyright 2024 The associated Press, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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