BANGKOK: Opponents of Thailand’s military coup are risking arrest by flashing the three-finger salute from the Hunger Games movies to defy a junta that has banned all public protests.
The gesture has become the unofficial symbol of resistance against a military regime that has suspended democracy and severely curtailed freedom of expression.
“Showing three fingers has become a symbol to call for basic political rights in a country ruled by one person as if with the most sovereign power, who is General Prayut Chan-O-Cha,” Sombat Boonngamanong, a prominent activist wanted by the junta, wrote on Facebook.
Critics of the May 22 coup, including the youngest daughter of ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, have posted photo–graphs of themselves flashing three fingers on Facebook and other social media sites.
“Dear #HungerGames. We’ve taken your sign as our own. Our struggle is non-fiction,” wrote one Twitter user.
In the Hunger Games movies, the residents of a dystopian future North America—who are forced to compete in a televised death match—initially use the gesture to mean thanks, admiration and good-bye to someone they love.
It later becomes a more general symbol of their uprising against a wealthy, totalitarian regime.
In Thailand, some protesters say the salute is also a nod to the French revolutionary motto “liberty, equality and fraternity.”
The military—which has imposed martial law, controls on the media and a night-time curfew—has warned that people flashing three fingers could face arrest under its ban on public protests.
“If they gather as more than five people and show the symbol of three fingers then it’s against the law,” army spokesman Winthai Suvaree told reporters.
But he suggested that people posting photos on the Internet were unlikely to be detained, saying coup makers were “not paying any attention” to the three-finger salute by Thaksin’s daughter.
The junta mounted a show of military strength over the weekend to deter small but defiant anti-coup flashmob rallies that popped up outside shopping malls and near train stations in the capital Bangkok.
Some people have taken to the streets reading George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Six people were arrested, included a woman shoved into a taxi by undercover police apparently disguised as journalists.
Security forces, many carrying riot shields, were deployed, backed briefly by an armoured humvee with a soldier manning a mounted machine gun.
The army has warned protesters that they—and even their families—face punishment under strict martial law, which has imposed sweeping curbs on freedoms.
The harsh response “reveals a totalitarian mindset that discounts respect for human rights as a hindrance to exercise of power,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch.
“The Bangkok street protesters’ three-fingered Hunger Games salute is a symbolic act of peaceful defiance by those who recog–nize—like those in the rebellious districts in the movie—that they face overwhel–ming odds but decide to bravely raise their voices nonetheless.”