Anti-coup protesters in Thailand have adopted a three-fingered salute from the book The Hunger Games as a symbol against what they argue is an oppressive and illegitimate military regime. In response to this form of silent protest, officials have warned that flashing the salute in large groups could lead to arrest.
“If a single individual raises three fingers in the air, we are not going to arrest him or her, but if it is a political gathering of five people or more, then we will have to take some action,” Col. Weerachon Sukhondhapatipak, a representative of the new military junta in Thailand, told the Associated Press. The salute has become something of a problem for Thai junta authorities, particularly given the variety with which protesters have employed it.
Some, reports note, raise three fingers alone, in silence, in public places. Others perform the three-finger salute in groups as part of louder and more disruptive protests. Authorities appear to be more willing to arrest any individual employing the salute if accompanied by large assemblies against the government, which are currently banned, but have yet to reach a consensus on the act of raising three fingers alone without any other obtrusive activity.
Time magazine notes that military authorities are debating whether to ban the salute entirely. Colonel Winthai Suwaree told the Bangkok Post that authorities had narrowed down the decision of whether to arrest a protester using the salute to a number of factors: “[The junta] must look at [the protester’s] intention, what they want to communicate and surrounding circumstances.”
What the protesters want to communicate is similar in general terms but varies on the specifics. Some reports note that protesters interpret the three-finger salute as a physical representation of the values of the French Revolution: liberty, equality, and fraternity. Others, like Brad Adams, Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, have a less specific definition: “The Bangkok street protesters’ three-fingered Hunger Games salute is a symbolic act of peaceful defiance by those who recognise — like those in the rebellious districts in the movie — that they face overwhelming odds but decide to bravely raise their voices nonetheless.”
The current military government in Thailand rose to power at the end of May, initially denying that the attack on the administration was a coup but nonetheless imposing martial law. They have since been transparent with the fact that the change in regime was, indeed, a coup, and have denied that they will host democratic elections for at least the next year, citing stability concerns.
In the book and film The Hunger Games, the three-fingered salute becomes a symbol for revolution after being used as a gesture of honor towards the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers to give her life to her country’s fight-to-the-death reality television program to save her sister. It is later used generally in the book by rebels against the oligarchy that rules North America in the future.