Fears for dissident musicians who have criticised Vladimir Putin following arrests in Thailand

Members of a dissident rock band critical of the war in Ukraine - including a musician who has been living in the UK for a year - are facing possible deportation from Thailand to Russia, according to campaigners and officials.

Seven members of the self-exiled band Bi-2 were arrested for working without a permit following a show in the Thai resort island of Phuket, several officials told the Reuters news agency.

Human rights activists and friends fear they will be severely punished if they are sent to Moscow.

The arrested artists include classically trained pianist Gleb Kolyadin, a session musician who joins the band for some live shows and has lived in East Sussex on a global talent visa since January last year, after leaving Russia when the war started.

Kolyadin, 34, also performs as one half of The Morning Band, a chamber progressive rock duo, with Marjana Semkina, who has lived in the UK since 2020.

She fears her bandmate and the other musicians could face harsh penalties if they are forced back to Russia.

'There is nowhere you can go'

"I'm trying not to think about it," she told Sky News. "The picture we're seeing right now is that the government is trying to make a point: if you have been outspoken, there is nowhere you can go.

"These are one of the most cherished Russian bands, we all grew up with their music on the radio. It sends a very powerful message that nobody's allowed to say anything anymore."

Semkina has set up an online petition calling on the Thai government not to deport the musicians to Russia.

She has not been able to contact Kolyadin, but says a promoter there has said the musicians are being held "in a shared cell with 80 other people... situated in open sun, exposing them to temperatures in excess of 35C".

Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher on Thailand for Human Rights Watch, said the musicians would "likely face harsh prosecution and other grave dangers" if they are sent to Russia.

Kriangkrai Ariyaying, the superintendent of Phuket's Immigration Bureau, told Reuters the musicians had been detained at Bangkok's immigration detention centre following the arrests over the alleged lack of permits.

This "usually results in deportation to their country of origin but there is some discretion [about the destination]", the officer said.

On their official Facebook page, the band said that all their "concerts are held in accordance with local laws and practices" and that they had paid a fine.

Bi-2 are known for condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine, with lead singer Igor Bortnick labelled as a "foreign agent" by Russian authorities after he criticised President Vladimir Putin online.

Some of the band members have dual citizenship with Israel and Australia.

Officials who declined to be identified because they were not authorised to speak to the media told Reuters the musicians could seek an alternative destination if they felt it would be unsafe to return to Russia.