The three-finger salute from the Hollywood movie “The Hunger Games” is being used as a real symbol of resistance in Thailand. Protesters against the military coup are flashing the gesture as a silent act of rebellion, and they’re being threatened with arrest if they ignore warnings to stop.
Thailand’s military rulers said Tuesday they were monitoring the new form of opposition to the May 22 coup. Reporters witnessed the phenomenon and individuals were captured on film making the raised-arm salute.
“Raising three fingers has become a symbol in calling for fundamental political rights,” said anti-coup activist Sombat Boonngam-anong on his Facebook page. He called on people to raise “3 fingers, 3 times a day” — at 9 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. — in safe public places where no police or military are present.
Since staging its bloodless coup, the military has prohibited political gatherings of more than five people and tried to enforce a ban on criticism of the coup by closing politically affiliated television stations and blocking hundreds of websites.
On Sunday, authorities deployed nearly 6,000 soldiers and police in Bangkok to prevent planned protests against the coup. Amid the heavy security, small flash mobs appeared in a central shopping district where the salute was unveiled for the first time.
"At this point we are monitoring the movement," said Colonel Weerachon Sukhondhapatipak, a spokesman for the ruling junta.
"If it is an obvious form of resistance, then we have to control it so it doesn't cause any disorder in the country. We know it comes from the movie, and let’s say it represents resistance against the authorities.
“If a single individual raises three fingers in the air, we are not going to arrest him or her,” he said. “But if it is a political gathering of five people or more, then we will have to take some action.”
In “The Hunger Games” movie series and book trilogy, the salute symbolizes rebellion against totalitarian rule, signifying thanks, admiration and goodbye to a loved one. But Thai protesters gave varying explanations. Some cited the French Revolution’s trinity of values: liberty, equality, fraternity. Others said it means freedom, election and democracy.
A photo montage circulating online paired a picture from “The Hunger Games” with a graphic of three fingers labeled, 1. No Coup, 2. Liberty, 3. Democracy.
While the strife-imitating-art nature of the phenomenon is extraordinary, it’s not unprecedented. Other examples of pop culture symbols being used to express political sentiments include Occupy protesters wearing the Guy Fawkes mask from the “V for Vendetta” movie.
The practice of tying a yellow ribbon as a symbol of support for hostages, missing soldiers or prisoners was popularized in part by the song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” that topped the charts in 1973.
Human Rights Watch’s Asia director Brad Adams decried the junta’s threat against the peaceful salute, saying that the “Thai military’s assault on basic human rights has apparently grown to not only target peaceful protesters, but now also silent ones as well — since now just holding up an arm with a three-finger salute is enough to earn the junta’s ire.”