Why does the 'Hunger Games' have Thailand on edge?

Pro-democracy activists in Thailand have used a symbol from the dystopian movie franchise to signal their anger at the country's coup – and military rulers have had enough.

Sakchai Lalit/AP
Nachacha Kongudom raised a three-fingered salute on Thursday outside a cinema in Bangkok where the latest “Hunger Games" movie was scheduled to open. Police detained her and two other anti-coup protesters.

The three-finger salute from the "Hunger Games" books and movies symbolizes rebellion against unjust rule, a reason it was appropriated months ago by protesters against the military junta now running Thailand. Yesterday, the generals decided they'd had enough: Three students were detained for flashing the symbol.

Opponents of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the general swept to power after a coup five months ago, see Thursday's crackdown as more evidence for what they already hold true – Thailand is becoming an oppressive state with parallels to the popular book and movie franchise.

The Associated Press reports that police escorted Nachacha Kongudom, a university student, out of a movie theater in a Bangkok shopping mall after she flashed the three-finger salute in front of a billboard for the series' latest installment, "Mockingjay – Part 1." 

"The 'Mockingjay' movie reflects what's happening in our society," Ms. Nachacha told the AP before being led away. "When people have been suppressed for some time, they would want to resist and fight for their rights."

Meanwhile, police detained two male activists outside a nearby cinema. Police Col. Visoot Chatchaidet told reporters that the students had not been arrested, according to Reuters. "We are just inviting them to talk," he said.

All three protesters were released without charge. But Nachacha had to sign a form promising she would not engage in political activity, a lawyer told the AP.

Nachacha is a supporter of the Thai Student Center for Democracy (TSCD). The organization distributed more than 100 tickets to watch "Mockingjay" at a Bangkok theater. But APEX, the company that owns the cinema, cancelled all screenings of the movie ahead of its Thursday opening.

TSCD organizers said they were not staging a demonstration, but activists said police pressured the chain into calling off the showings.

"Everyone is afraid to do or to say something wrong," activist Ratthapol Supasopon said before police took him away, according to the Bangkok Post. "Today, in Thailand, we don't have freedom anymore."

The detentions in Bangkok occurred a day after police detained five university students who gave the three-fingered salute during a speech by Prime Minister Prayuth in northeastern Thailand, the AP reports.

The students wore T-shirts saying "Don't Want a Coup" as they confronted Prayuth, who was speaking on a stage. Prayuth, who is usually prickly with critics, smiled and said: "Anyone else want to protest? Come quickly. Then I can continue with my speech."

The photos of the students raising their fingers in the air appeared on the front pages of most Thai newspapers Thursday.

The Thai military banned political gatherings when it ousted the country's government on May 22. Police have since suppressed all public demonstrations, a sign of the new leadership's tightening grip on all forms of dissent.

Opposition activists began flashing the three-finger salute in the immediate aftermath of the coup, making the gesture a symbol of Thailand's pro-democracy movement.

Thailand isn't the only county where the release of the latest "Hunger Games" movie has been cancelled or delayed. In China, the film's opening has been postponed indefinitely, perhaps until January 2015. 

The Hollywood Reporter suspects that China's film authorities may be keen on "balancing domestic and foreign box totals before the end of the year." Others suggest the film's political narrative – which takes place in a dystopian, authoritarian state – may have concerned Chinese censors. 

"Mockingjay" opens in the United States and other countries around the world on Friday.

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