In what many are calling the country’s first #MeToo movement, more than a dozen women have come forward with sexual assault allegations against popular Thai politician Prinn Panitchpakdi.
Prinn, 44, resigned from his post as deputy leader of Thailand’s Democrat Party on April 14, following an allegation of sexual assault by an 18-year-old woman. Several other women have since come forward with similar accusations against the political figure, who was detained by authorities on Saturday.
Prinn has denied all allegations and claimed innocence, saying that he would “leave this case to the justice process.” His resignation last week came as a direct response to the accusations, which he said he was “shocked and stunned” to hear. He was released Sunday on a $20,000 bail.
Victims file charges
On April 20, two days before Prinn’s resignation, lawyer Sittra Biabungkerd from the pro bono group People’s Lawyers Foundation revealed that at least 10 woman had contacted him about sexual assault and sexual misconduct incidents in relation to an unnamed deputy party leader. He went on to say they would represent a total of 15 survivors who have filed harassment or rape charges.
The number of women who have filed a sexual assault claim has reportedly grown to at least 18.
The police say that there is a common theme among the allegations. According to the Bangkok Lumpini station, Prinn would supposedly invite women into his condominium for business matters and then would proceed to rape or assault them, sometimes after drugging them.
The most recent allegation is from an anonymous socialite who says that Prinn molested her and tried to kiss her at a condo in 2008. The victims, aged 17 to 30, include students, business women and political party members.
Thailand’s #MeToo movement
On April 18, several Thai feminist groups gathered in front of the Democrat Party headquarters to show their support for what is currently Thailand’s most high profile #MeToo case. The feminist demonstrators danced to “Sida Lui Faai,” meaning “Sida Through Fire,” a song that has been dubbed Thai’s feminist anthem.
At that point, Panitchpakdi had already been charged with three counts of sexual harrassment and assault. Protestors brought up to reporters that Panitchpakdi had originally been accused of rape and sexual harassment in London several years prior, but had not been convicted.
They listed five key demands, expressing concerns that politicians would continue to abuse their power by sweeping their scandals under the rug. The demands were as follows:
- All political parties should investigate the past criminal record of the former deputy leader of the Democrat Party, including all committee memberships, particularly those related to sexual abuse.
- An investigation of party members’ or committee members’ past abusive sexual behavior.
- All political parties must have a clear ethical code of conduct for all party members and committee members on sexual harrassment and assault.
- Political parties should not interfere with court cases.
- Political parties should apologize sincerely to the public over the case.
Government spokesperson and Democrat Party member Ratchada Dhnadirek responded by saying that they accepted the demands, but also emphasized that the Democrat Party had a clear sexual harrassment policy in place.
As with the U.S.’ historic #MeToo movement in 2017, which was triggered by a string of allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and was re-adopted from a phrase coined by activist Tarana Burke in 2006, many of the Thai accusers cited fears of charging a high profile figure as the reason for why they did not come forward earlier. Weinstein was accused of decades of sexual harassment, with Hollywood stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Ashley Judd confirming their own experiences with the producer.
Prinn’s high-profile career follows in the footsteps of his father, Supachai Panitchpakdi, who is Thailand’s former deputy prime minister, director-general of the World Trade Organization and former secretary-general of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
Responses from party members
Several top politicians have spoken out about the scandal, including Move Forward Party Leader Pita Limjaroenrat, who said earlier last week that the party would not get involved in the case. He emphasized the seriousness of the accusations and stated that sexual assault should not be used as a political tool.
The scandal also led to a series of resignations from top politicians. Deputy Prime Minister Wittaya Kaewparadai resigned last Friday, citing the scandal as the reason.
Senior politician Kanok Wongtrangan, who identifies as an educational consultant of Thailand, also left his role as deputy leader of Thailand’s Democrat Party.
He announced on Facebook today that he was resigning out of “moral conscience” due to the ongoing scandal and what he described as his party’s failure to satisfy the public’s “disdain.”
He called the incident a “violent moral offense” that questioned the moral standards of “the overall party executives.”
Both Wittaya and Kanok have warned that the future of the Democrat Party is in jeopardy and that the executive committee has to do more to restore the party’s image.
Feature Image via workpointTODAY