Thai police arrest ‘holy man’ said to be leader of corpse worshippers

Police in north-east Thailand have arrested a self-proclaimed holy man whose followers allegedly worshipped corpses and consumed bodily fluids as a cure for illness.

There were chaotic scenes as officers raided the thatched house of Thawee Nanra, 75, deep in the jungle of Chaiyaphum province on Sunday. Supporters shouted and jostled with police as he was led, shirtless and white-bearded, to a police vehicle.

Officers said they had found 11 corpses on the premises, which local media reported were believed to be bodies of his followers.

The provincial governor, Kraisorn Kongchalad, said Thawee had at least a dozen followers living with him. Coffins containing bodies were scattered around the house. Devotees reportedly told authorities that the leader’s urine and phlegm were believed to cure diseases.

Kraisorn said he had been shocked to discover that such practices still went on in modern times.

“It’s quite disturbing to see that there are people who believe in such superstition, but this is not only about a personal belief any more. We have dead bodies, and we will have to work with all agencies to establish facts surrounding these individuals,” he said.

Thailand’s population is overwhelming Buddhist, but many people hold beliefs outside the religion, some of which include the worship of local spirits and fear of ghosts.

The authorities believe the group had existed for more than four years without anyone noticing because of the remote location of the leader’s house.

Their anonymity ended after a daughter of one of Thawee’s followers complained to a social media celebrity who specialises in exposing unscrupulous religious figures.

Thawee was initially charged with encroaching on a forest area – his house was said to be on public land – and holding illegal gatherings prohibited under disease control laws that have been used in the past two years to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Local media reported that he had been denied bail on Monday. Police say they are looking into other charges, including the unlawful disposal of bodies.

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