Police in Thailand have arrested a cult leader whose followers allegedly worshipped corpses and consumed bodily fluids after 11 bodies were found during a raid.
Supporters of Thawee Nanra screamed and jostled with officers as the bearded, shirtless white-haired man was led to a police vehicle at his home deep in a jungle in Chaiyaphum province.
Police said they found 11 corpses on the 75-year-old’s premises and local media said they were believed to be the bodies of his followers.
Provincial Governor Kraisorn Kongchalad said Thawee had at least a dozen followers living with him and that coffins containing bodies were scattered around the house.
Devotees are said to have told authorities that the leader’s urine and phlegm were believed to be cures for diseases.
Mr Kraisorn said he was shocked to learn such practices still went on in the modern age.
“It’s quite disturbing to see that there are people who believe in such superstition,” he said.
“But this is not only about a personal belief anymore. We have dead bodies, and we will have to work with all agencies to establish facts surrounding these individuals.”
While Thailand’s population is overwhelmingly Buddhist, many people hold beliefs outside the religion, including the worship of local spirits and fear of ghosts.
Authorities believe the group existed for more than four years without anyone noticing because the location of the leader’s house was in a remote forest area, far from other communities.
But their anonymity ended swiftly after a daughter of one of the followers complained to a social media celebrity who seeks to expose unscrupulous religious figures.
Thawee was initially charged with encroaching on a forest area – as his house is allegedly on public land – and illegal gatherings prohibited under COVID laws.
Police say they are looking into other charges, including the unlawful disposal of bodies.
He was denied bail on Monday, according to local media.