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‘Aunty Pao’, 67, Hit With 12 Charges for Naked Protest

A fully clothed 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.
A fully clothed 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.

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 the Emergency Decree and decency laws.

Worawan Sae-aung, better known as “Aunty Pao”, is a street vendor selling fruit and a regular at youth-led pro-democracy protests.

In all, Worawan is facing 12 charges over her participation in street protests, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, 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 laid down 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 for “doing any shameful act in public by indecently exposing one’s person, or by committing other indecent acts,” according to the Criminal Code.

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 the Emergency Decree’s prohibition against 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.”

A longer version of this story appears in UCA News, a Bangkok Herald partner.