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'Hunger Games' salute leads to arrests of Thai protesters

Three more Thai students arrested for spreading 'Hunger Games' salute to protest coup

Life is imitating art in Thailand, where muzzled opponents of the coup leaders who suspended democracy six months ago have embraced the three-finger salute of defiance from the "Hunger Games" movie series.

Three more students who used the cinematic gesture of rebellion against tyranny were arrested at a Bangkok cinema's Thursday night showing of "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1," the latest film based on the dystopian trilogy by author Suzanne Collins.

Gatherings of five or more people have been prohibited in Thailand since May 22, when then-army chief Prayuth Chan-Ocha deposed elected leaders in a move he said was necessary to restore order after months of disruptive political protests.

Frustrated by their inability to assemble and air their demands that democracy be restored, the mainly youthful opponents of the ruling junta have taken to symbolic expressions, like reading George Orwell's totalitarian narrative "1984" in public or raising the salute against repression borrowed from fiction to protest reality.

Premieres of "Mockingjay" were canceled at two Bangkok cinemas on Thursday after student organizers bought up hundreds of tickets to give away and draw coup opponents together in symbolic protest. The three arrested outside the Siam Paragon cinema were taken to an army camp for "attitude adjustment," Col. Kittikorn Boonsom of the Bangkok Metropolitan Police was quoted as telling Agence France-Presse.

The Chinese government has also delayed release of "Mockingjay" in that country's cinemas until next year, Variety reported earlier this week. It wasn't clear if the postponement was connected with the film's embrace by pro-democracy activists, but Chinese authorities have been engaged in a battle with Hong Kong protesters for more than a month.

In Thailand, five other student protesters were arrested Wednesday after raising the three-finger salute during a speech by Prayuth in the northeastern Khon Kaen region, a stronghold of ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The "Hunger Games" gesture is now banned in Thailand, at least in practice, although Prayuth told journalists in Bangkok that the embrace of the symbol of defiance by young protesters only bothered him for its potential to "ruin their future." Prayuth also said martial law will continue in Thailand until the time is right to lift it, the Bloomberg news agency reported.

Human rights advocates have condemned the Thai authorities' attempts to suppress even symbolic gestures of protest.

"This case is the latest illustration of a worrying pattern of human rights violations, which has the effect of suppressing critical and independent voices," Matilda Bogner of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Bangkok told AFP.

"Life in Thailand is growing more absurd by the day," John Sifton, Human Right Watch Asia advocacy director, wrote in a commentary he posted via Twitter. "Someone needs to inform General Prayuth that if his system of government is threatened by young people emulating a Hollywood movie, it is pretty sure sign that things needs to change."

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