BANGKOK (Reuters) - Three Thai university students were taken into police custody on Thursday for handing out free tickets to the latest film in the Hunger Games series, from which Thai protesters have borrowed a gesture of resistance to a totalitarian government.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha led a military coup on May 22. The military has quashed any public demonstration of resistance to the coup and a ban on political gatherings remains in place.
In the immediate aftermath of the coup, some protesters flashed a three-fingered salute inspired by the Hunger Games series. The salute has become emblematic with Thai pro-democracy protesters, and the Thai government has warned the public against using it.
“The three-finger sign is a sign to show that I am calling for my basic right to live my life,” Bangkok University student Natchacha Kongudom told reporters before being taken into custody after making the gesture outside a cinema.
Police Colonel Visoot Chatchaidet told reporters that the students had not been arrested. “We are just inviting them to talk,” he said.
Natchacha is a supporter of the Thai Student Centre for Democracy (TSCD) which distributed over 100 tickets to watch the film at one Bangkok cinema. The cinema chain APEX that owns that venue canceled the screening. APEX declined to comment on the reasons for the cancellation on Thursday.
TSCD organizers said they were not staging a demonstration.
“There may be some hidden messages in the movie, but we are also a group that enjoys films,” TSCD organizer Ratthapol Supasopon told reporters before being taken into custody.
The third detained student carried a copy of George Orwell’s novel 1984, which has also been deployed as a symbol of protest by those opposing Thailand’s military rule.
The detentions in Bangkok came the day after five members of a crowd were detained for making the salute and revealing an anti-coup slogan on their T-shirts as Prayuth began a speech in the northern city of Khon Khaen. The city is a stronghold for supporters of the government Prayuth ousted.
Each of the five had one word on their shirts to make the message “We don’t support the coup”.
“It is all right, they do not understand the truth,” Prayuth said on stage as he saw the demonstrators.
Additional reporting By Jutarat Skulpichetrat and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Simon Webb