The gesture is synonymous with opposition to the Thai junta
One of Thailand’s main theater chains has pulled the latest installment of the hit Hollywood franchise The Hunger Games after five students were arrested for flashing the three-finger sign of dissent from the film at military dictator General Prayuth Chan-ocha.
The salute has become synonymous with opposition to Thailand’s May 22 military coup. A spokesman for Apex cinemas told the Bangkok Post on Wednesday that the company had dropped the sequel, Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, as “we feel our theaters are being used for political movements.”
The decision comes after Prayuth was speaking in Khon Kaen, a city in Thailand’s northeastern Isaan region where the family of ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra maintains fervent support. Five students showed up sporting T-shirts that read “We don’t want the coup” and made the three-fingered “District 12” salute at the junta leader before being arrested.
Prayuth appeared to laugh off the challenge to his authority. “Well, that’s it. But it’s O.K. Go easy on them. We will take care of the problems. Any more protests? Make them quick,” he said, according to the Post.
The students were released later that same evening and ordered to report to the military with their parents the next day. Later on Wednesday, 11 students were arrested at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument for staging a picnic in solidarity with those detained in Khon Kaen. (Thai students often disguise their protests as picnics by handing out food.)
“I’m surprised something like this hasn’t happened much earlier given the general discontent with the regime,” David Streckfuss, an American scholar of Thai history based in Khon Kaen, tells TIME.
According to the League of Liberal Thammasat for Democracy — an anticoup student group that had offered 160 free tickets for the movie premiere to anyone who could answer the question, “In what ways is the Capital in the Mockingjay is similar to Bangkok?” — Apex canceled the movie after receiving a call from the police. A spokesman for the cinema denied it was under any pressure when speaking to the Post.
Thailand’s 18th military coup since 1932 has seen more than 200 academics, activists and journalists arbitrarily detained for up to a month, according to Human Rights Watch, and strict censorship imposed. Some of those voicing criticism from abroad have had their families threatened and passports revoked.
In addition, the group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights has documented “hundreds, possibly thousands” of people in the northeast who have been “summoned, monitored, followed and harassed by the military,” says Streckfuss.