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Giving the ‘Hunger Games’ salute in Thailand can get you arrested

The familiar three-fingered salute is too much free speech for Thailand's beleaguered government to tolerate.


Aja Romano

Internet Culture

Posted on Jun 3, 2014   Updated on May 31, 2021, 5:00 am CDT

Thailand‘s messy political landscape may invite comparisons to Westeros, but there’s another fandom that hits much closer to home: Thai protesters could face arrest for launching the three-fingered salute from The Hunger Games

In the fortnight since Thailand’s military junta overthrew Thailand’s weak but democratically elected government, it has deployed troops into the streets of Bangkok to quell protests, shut down numerous partisan media outlets, deported journalists, and pressured at least one bookstore, Kinokuniya, into removing politically controversial books from its shelves.

It also spawned a very subtle, literary-based form of protest, with Thai citizens quietly assembling to read books like 1984 in public.

#AntiCoup activists stage “read-in” at Siam – Chid Lom Skywalk in BKK today to circumvent ban on public gathering.

— Khaosod English (@KhaosodEnglish) May 31, 2014

Thai activists stage silent reading protest against censorship photos by @TheLilyfish

— Nok (@Nok_KN) May 30, 2014

Another form of protest is proving more attention-grabbing—the raised arm, three-fingered salute that residents of The Hunger Games‘ marginalized, downtrodden District 11 used to signal passive resistance to their authoritarian government. On Sunday, more than 100 protesters gathered in a downtown Bangkok mall to protest by silently raising the salute.

Army ponders arrest for three-finger sigh. #ThaiCoup

— Nok (@Nok_KN) June 3, 2014

The Hunger Games salute has become a symbol of resistance against the Thailand military coup.

— The Star (@staronline) June 3, 2014

#Thailand‘s junta warns protesters over ‘Hunger Games’ salute #thaicoup #thailandcoup

— Asian Correspondent (@AsCorrespondent) June 3, 2014

In response, Thai military officials have lashed out, threatening to detain protestors for as much as a week if they’re caught flashing the sign. Army deputy spokesman Col. Winthai Suwaree, a representative for the military’s rather Orwellian-named National Council for Peace and Order, told the Bangkok Post that authorities would look at the context to determine whether to arrest protestors. 

In the Hunger Games, the salute is originally a sign of respect and gratitude. It transforms into an ironic gesture of defiance, however, when the series’ protagonist Katniss uses it in tribute to a victim of the government’s dystopic tournament. Later, the gesture becomes the symbol of national, public rebellion against the government and a precursor to revolution.

In real life, it’s not that tidy: the current Thai protests are weakened after more than seven months of political unrest due to ongoing tensions between democratic and anti-democratic political factions. The Post reported that Thai protesters are also using the raised three-finger salute to represent the three precepts of the French revolution: liberty, equality, and eternity.

The International Federation for Human Rights urged the military to respect human rights and personal freedoms. After declaring martial law on May 23, the junta detained numerous civilians with ties to activists and protests, including the family of jailed magazine editor Somyot Prueksakasemsuk.

Meanwhile, the Internet is showing support for the protesters using the hashtag #ThaiCoup.

Illustration by Jason Reed

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*First Published: Jun 3, 2014, 7:26 pm CDT