Art meets life in Thaland 'Hunger Games' protests
BANGKOK — A cinema chain in Thailand's capital has canceled all screenings of the latest "The Hunger Games" movie after a student group planned a protest at a theater against the country's military coup. Activists said Wednesday that police pressured the theaters to halt the showings.
Opponents of the May military coup have adopted a three-finger salute from the movie series as a sign of defiance. The military-imposed government has banned the gesture, which symbolizes rebellion against totalitarian rule in the film series.
A group of anti-coup students from Bangkok's Thammasat University purchased about 100 tickets for an opening-day showing Thursday of the "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1" at the Scala cinema and planned to attend together.
Ratthapol Supasopon, an organizer, said the group was informed by the theater management that the film's showings had been canceled.
"The theater told us they were uncomfortable and wanted to avoid any problems that may arise. They said they did not want to be involved in any politics," he said. "The police contacted them and pressured them not to let us hold the event."
An employee answering the phone at the Scala who declined to identify himself said the movie had been canceled at all theaters belonging to Bangkok's Apex chain. The film is still scheduled by some other cinema chains.
Initial protests against the May coup largely died out because of crackdowns on dissent by the army and police, but there has been a small upsurge in recent days.
On Wednesday, five university students were arrested in northeastern Thailand after giving the three-fingered salute during a speech by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the coup as army commander.
The students, wearing T-shirts saying "Don't Want a Coup," stood in front of Prayuth as he spoke on a stage in Khon Kaen, a stronghold of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in an earlier 2006 military coup.
Prayuth, who is usually prickly with critics, stopped his speech and smiled calmly when the students stood up. "Anyone else want to protest? Come quickly. Then I can continue with my speech," he said.
The students were taken to a police station and then an army camp, where they were questioned by soldiers, human rights lawyer Sasinan Thamnithinan said. She said they had not been charged.
Rights groups have criticized the government's tight limits on speech and the media. Last week, public broadcaster Thai PBS dismissed the host of a TV program after a visit by army officers who complained that the show's content was provocative. The government, which can shut the station under martial law, insists the officers merely expressed their concerns.
Several dozen Thai protesters and others carrying anti-coup banners and giving the three-finger salute attended the world premiere of "Mockingjay - Part 1" in London on Nov. 10.
In "The Hunger Games," the three-finger salute signifies thanks, admiration and good-bye to a loved one. Some Thai protesters say it also represents the French Revolution's values of liberty, equality and fraternity, while others say it means freedom, election and democracy.