Thailand's military-installed leaders are cracking down on protesters who have adopted "The Hunger Games" three-finger salute in defiance of totalitarian rule.
On Wednesday, police arrested five university students in the northeastern region of Khon Kaen after they flashed the symbol of rebellion against tyranny during a speech by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the former military chief of staff who deposed elected government leaders in May and suspended democracy.
A major Thai cinema chain in Bangkok, Apex, was forced to cancel Thursday's premiere of "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1," to prevent the latest film in the series based on author Suzanne Collins' dystopian trilogy from becoming a venue for expression of anti-coup sentiments.
Students from Bangkok's Thammasat University had bought up tickets to the premiere and planned to use the prominent stage to demonstrate their demand for restoration of democracy, protest organizer Ratthapol Supasopon told the Associated Press in the Thai capital.
The military government has banned public display of the three-finger salute, which became a symbolic gesture of coup opponents after the junta imposed harsh restrictions against freedoms of speech, assembly and press.
Human rights lawyer Sasinan Thamnithinan told reporters after the student arrests in Khon Kaen that they were taken to an army camp and interrogated. The five, all law students from Khon Kaen University, were threatened with expulsion unless they signed pledges to renounce political activism, the lawyer said.
Khon Kaen is a power base of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose 2006 ouster in a military coup ignited Thailand's latest spate of unrest and revolving-door leadership. Thaksin was charged with corruption, prompting him to flee to the United Arab Emirates.
Thaksin's sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was elected to succeed him as government chief when democracy was purportedly restored with elections in 2011 but was confronted with the same opposition from the Bangkok business elite that led to her brother's ouster. Yingluck was forced to accept a caretaker government early this year while the two sides battled over the results of a boycotted Feb. 2 election.
The May coup led by Prayuth followed six months of rival protests by supporters of the populist Shinawatra dynasty and the royalist, military-influenced Bangkok elite.
Prayuth said a military takeover was necessary to restore order and resume normal business in Bangkok, where protesters had blocked main streets and government buildings for months and at least two dozen people died in the unrest.