BANGKOK (AP) – Police in northeast Thailand have arrested a forest-dwelling self-proclaimed saint whose followers allegedly worshiped corpses and consumed bodily fluids as a cure for diseases, officials said on Monday.
There were chaotic scenes as officers raided the thatched home of 75-year-old Thawee Nanra deep in the jungle in Chaiyaphum province on Sunday. Supporters shouted and jostled with police as the bearded, shirtless, white-haired man was led to a police vehicle.
Police said they found 11 bodies at the site and local media said they are believed to be the bodies of his supporters.
Provincial Governor Kraisorn Kongchalad said Thawee has at least a dozen followers living with him. Coffins with corpses were scattered throughout the house. Followers reportedly told authorities that the leader’s urine and phlegm are believed to be medicines for diseases.
Kraisorn said he was shocked to find such practices continued into modern times.
“It’s quite disturbing to see that there are people who believe in such superstitions. But this is no longer just about a personal belief. We have bodies and we need to work with all authorities to establish facts about these people,” he said over the phone.
Thailand’s population is predominantly Buddhist, but many people have beliefs outside of religion, such as worshiping local spirits and fearing ghosts.
Authorities believe the group existed for more than four years without anyone noticing, as the leader’s home was in a remote wooded area, away from other communities.
However, their anonymity ended after a daughter of one of the followers complained to a social media celebrity whose specialty is exposing unscrupulous religious figures.
Thawee was initially charged with trespassing in a wooded area – his home is said to have been on public land – and committing illegal gatherings, banned under disease control laws that have been in place for the past two years to combat the coronavirus were used.
Local media reported that he was denied bail on Monday.
Police say they are investigating other charges, including the illegal disposal of bodies.
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