The three-fingered salute inspired by the Hollywood franchise The Hunger Games may seem like nothing more than symbol of solidarity on the silver screen. But for a group of Thai students arrested and locked up this week for flashing the sign — which became widely associated with the mass movement against Thailand's military coup earlier this year — the reality is much more nefarious.
The trouble for the five students, all from a local university in Thailand's northeastern province of Khon Kaen, began Wednesday morning as Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha stepped onto a podium to deliver a speech, the BBC reported.
The students reportedly stood up and slipped off their shirts to reveal t-shirts underneath bearing an anti-coup phrase written in Thai. They raised their arms and reportedly brandished the three-fingered salute, which is a silent symbol of the revolution against violent state control in The Hunger Games franchise.
Police and military officers dragged the students away to a military camp and held them for an "attitude adjustment," according to the BBC report. Most of them were released several hours later, but the fate of at least one female student is unclear, according to statements on social media.
The three-fingered sign was used by thousands of protesters this May after General Prayuth Chan-ocha, with the backing of the military, staged the country's 12th coup in eight decades, dissolved the senate, and declared himself interim prime minister.
The coup came in response to Thailand's prolonged political deadlock between the elected populist government supported by the country's rural poor majority and anti-government protesters bolstered by the country's elite.
But soon after Prayuth declared martial law, anti-coup protesters amassed in the nation's capital of Bangkok calling for the junta to "get out" and the restoration of democratic rule. At the time, the military threatened to arrest anyone who failed to stop flashing the salute when ordered to by authorities.
On Wednesday Prayuth, who was formally approved as PM by the King in August, reacted coolly after the students' arrest, asking: "Anyone else want to protest? Come quickly. Then I can continue with my speech," the Associated Press reported.
Later that evening, another 11 students were arrested by the junta in Bangkok for allegedly organizing a dinner near the Democracy Monument in a show of support for their detained fellow students local media reported.
On Thursday, police detained three more students who raised the three-finger salute near a showing of the newest movie in the franchise, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1, according to the Associated Press.
The three were later released without charge, but at least one student, Nachacha Kongudom, 21, was forced to sign a document promising she would stay away from political activism.
"The Mockingjay movie reflects what's happening in our society," Nachacha told The Associated Press before being taken away by police. "When people have been suppressed for some time, they would want to resist and fight for their rights."
The arrests and detainments have been widely condemned by rights groups, with Human Rights Watch calling them, "an obstruction of the rights to express opinions peacefully."
The military has promised to relinquish power to a civilian government and hold general elections in late 2015, but in the meantime has tightened controls on media and free speech in Thailand.
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