Thai government criticizes risque fundraiser

AP, April 1, 2007

BANGKOK, Thailand -- The Thai government lashed out Saturday at efforts to sell nude photos of local celebrities as part of a controversial campaign to raise funds for a temple well known for sheltering AIDS patients.

The photos of mostly female actors and models -- some of which were splashed across the front page of a local tabloid paper Saturday and shown on a television news program -- prompted the Ministry of Culture to deem the fundraising campaign "inappropriate" for Thailand.

"If you want to make donation for a Buddhist temple, they should do it according to Thai culture," said Ladda Tangsuphachai, Director of the Culture Watch Department, referring to suggestions by organizers that the money raised would go to a temple treating AIDS patients.

"It is a violation of Buddhist morality to have your photographs taken when you are naked," she said.

The photos are reportedly destined for a special edition of Thai celebrity magazine Fame, with funds raised from its sale going to the Phra Bat Namphu Temple in Lopburi province, a major shelter for thousands of HIV/AIDS patients.

But even the temple now says it will not take money raised from the sale of the magazine.

"If we take the money, people will think that we are supporting activities which are deemed to cross the morally acceptable line," said Phra Alongkot, abbot of Phra Bat Namphu Temple. "They have good intention but the method is deemed inappropriate."

A spokesman for Fame could not be reached for comment. But in an interview with local media, a Fame official said they would likely proceed with the project and give the money to another charity.

Some of the models in the campaign also defended the project, saying they didn't understand what all the fuss was about. Although photographed naked, the female models cover their breasts or have their backs to the camera.

"People are born naked," Penpak Sirikul, one of the best-known Thai models posing for the magazine, was quoted in the English language daily The Nation as saying.

"This is the art of women's beauty," she said.

Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist country which remains largely conservative, although it has allowed a flourishing sex industry to operate for decades in and around the capital Bangkok.