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Elderly Thai woman charged over naked protest

Worawan Sae-aung is accused of violating the emergency decree and a law against public nudity
Elderly Thai woman charged over naked protest

Worawan Sae-aung, who is fondly known as Aunty Pao and works as a street vendor selling fruit, regularly attends youth-led pro-democracy protests in Bangkok. (Photo: Twitter)

Published: October 21, 2021 04:31 AM GMT
Updated: October 23, 2021 10:22 AM GMT

An elderly woman who stripped naked in front of the Royal Thai Police’s headquarters in Bangkok during a recent anti-government protest has been charged with violating an emergency decree and a law against public nudity.

Worawan Sae-aung, who is fondly known as Aunty Pao and works as a street vendor selling fruit, is a regular at youth-led pro-democracy protests that have taken place regularly for more than a year with demonstrators demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former army chief.

In all, Worawan is facing 12 charges over her participation in street protests, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), a group that aids demonstrators charged with crimes.

The woman, who has been outspoken at rallies, stripped naked outside the headquarters of the police in central Bangkok on Sept. 28 in an incident widely shared on social media.

After taking off her clothes, she lay down on the ground and opened her legs, exposing her genitals to police massed in riot gear moving to disperse protesters by force.

For that act she could be fined up to 5,000 baht (US$150) for “doing any shameful act in public by indecently exposing one’s person, or by committing other indecent acts,” according to the Criminal Code.

We love her. She is fun and very feisty. She’s always at the front [during protests] taunting the police

Worawan has denied the charge, arguing that by exposing herself she was taking a stance against the violent tactics police employ to disperse protesters, including the use of tear gas and rubber bullets.

The elderly woman enjoys a degree of fame among pro-democracy activists who are young enough to be her grandchildren.

“We love her. She is fun and very feisty. She’s always at the front [during protests] taunting the police,” a young female pro-democracy activist told UCA News. 

In addition to the charge of indecent exposure in public, Worawan could face jail time on another charge: violating an emergency decree that prohibits large gatherings.

Several hundred protesters, including numerous children, have been charged with violating the emergency decree in a move condemned by rights groups.

Rights groups have also decried Thai authorities for using heavy-handed methods against peaceful demonstrators, most of whom are high school and university students as well as some elderly people.

“The continued, frequent use of intimidation by the Thai authorities is a blatant assault on people’s rights to voice their opinions and peacefully protest,” Emerlynne Gil, a senior staffer at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

The rights advocate called on Thai police to stop their “systematic campaign to repress people simply wishing to peacefully express their views.”

“Authorities must immediately drop politically motivated charges against peaceful protesters, including children. They must release all those peaceful protesters and leaders still detained, effectively investigate the repeated instances of unnecessary and excessive use of force, and ensure these protests are policed according to international standards,” Gil said.

Despite Thai authorities’ stepped-up “lawfare” against protesters, demonstrators have continued taking to the streets of Bangkok to demand sweeping political reforms in a country ruled by a military-allied regime since 2014 when Prayut seized power at the head of a junta.

“Many young people are angry at the government,” a protester holding an anti-government sign at a recent rally in central Bangkok told UCA News. “We’ll not stop protesting against them.”

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