BANGKOK, May 23 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Thai police said on Sunday that they had arrested 62 men for breaching coronavirus restrictions in a raid on a gay “chemsex” party, the country’s largest such crackdown during the pandemic.
The men were arrested on Saturday night at Faros Sauna 2, where police also found drugs, needles and used condoms, said Police Colonel Ekapop Tanprayoon, superintendent of Bangkok’s Wang Thong Lang District police station.
“(In the past) we have reprimanded people for gathering to drink at home,” Ekapop told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“But under the current circumstances there shouldn’t be so many people in such a crowded area,” he said, adding that Faros Sauna 2 has two buildings - one with 50 bedrooms - and a swimming pool and karaoke.
As Thailand grapples with a third COVID-19 wave, campaigners are warning of the health risks posed by an apparent increase in chemsex - where mainly gay and bisexual men meet to take drugs such as crystal meth and unprotected sex is common.
A largely conservative Buddhist society, Thailand has a reputation for its relaxed attitude towards gender and sexual diversity since homosexuality was decriminalised in 1956.
Yet Thai LGBT+ people often face discrimination and stigma in schools, the workplace and in healthcare facilities, and are often rejected by their families.
People who attended the party and its organisers face charges of violating an emergency decree put in place last March to combat COVID-19, Ekapop said, and could face up to two years in prison and a fine of up to 40,000 baht ($1,276).
Some 30 people have also tested positive for drugs so far and will be charged with drug-related crimes, he said.
Chemsex users are at risk of drug addiction or overdoses, as well as mental health problems, according to campaigners.
Nikorn Chimkong, president of the Bangkok Rainbow Organization, an LGBT+ advocacy group, said he was concerned the arrests would contribute to the image of gay men being “promiscuous” and “spreading diseases”.
"Chemsex parties are a new normal amid the pandemic, and what is worrying is the health of those attending, such as the risks of contracting COVID-19 and HIV," he said. ($1 = 31.3600 baht) (Reporting by Nanchanok Wongsamuth @nanchanokw; Editing by Katy Migiro and Hugo Greenhalgh. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit news.trust.org)