BANGKOK, Thailand – Police detained three students Thursday at the opening of the latest “Hunger Games” movie in Thailand, where opponents of May’s military coup have adopted the film’s three-finger salute as a sign of defiance.
The military-imposed government has banned the gesture, which symbolizes rebellion against totalitarian rule in the film series. One cinema chain in Thailand’s capital cancelled all screenings of the movie ahead of its Thursday opening after a student group planned an anti-coup protest outside one of its theatres. Activists say police pressured the chain to halt the showings.
Two of the people detained were student activists and the third was led away after raising a three-finger salute outside another Bangkok cinema, where “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” was showing.
Ratthapol Supasopon, one of the student activists, denied he was organizing a protest.
“Even though our activities in the past have been politically driven, today we are just here to watch a movie,” he told reporters, as police led him away.
Police Col. Visoot Chatchaidet told The Associated Press that the pair would not be charged. “We will just talk to them and let them go,” he said.
In “The Hunger Games,” the three-finger salute signifies thanks, admiration and good-bye to a loved one.
In the aftermath of Thailand’s coup in May, some protesters adopted the three-finger salute as a form of silent opposition to the overthrow of an elected government.
Initial protests largely died out because of crackdowns on dissent by the army and police, but there has been a small upsurge in recent days.
“The Mockingjay movie reflects what’s happening in our society. … When people have been suppressed for some time, they would want to resist and fight for their rights,” Nachacha Kongudom, 21, one of the detained students, told AP. “Going to the cinema is the basic rights of the people. I’m here today to call for and to protect my rights.”
On Wednesday, five university students were arrested in northeastern Thailand after giving the three-fingered salute during a speech by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the coup as army commander.
The students were taken to a police station and then an army camp, where they were questioned by soldiers, human rights lawyer Sasinan Thamnithinan said. After being released later Wednesday, they were called back for more questioning with their parents on Thursday, said Sasinan.
The students, wearing T-shirts saying “Don’t Want a Coup,” stood in front of Prayuth as he spoke on a stage. Prayuth, who is usually prickly with critics, stopped his speech and smiled calmly when the students stood up. “Anyone else want to protest? Come quickly. Then I can continue with my speech,” he said.
The photos of the students raising their fingers in the air were on the front pages of most Thai newspapers Thursday.
Lionsgate, “Mockingjay’s” Hollywood production company, had no comment on the situation.