Thailand’s military rulers are monitoring a new form of silent resistance to the coup – a three-fingered salute borrowed from The Hunger Games – and will arrest those in groups who ignore warnings to lower their arms.
Despite the warning to protesters, the junta offered a reprieve to the country’s vital tourism industry.
It lifted the curfew at three popular beach resorts – Phuket, Koh Samui and Pattaya – to ease the impact of the 22 May coup on tourists.
A midnight to 4am curfew remained in effect for the rest of the country, including Bangkok, where the raised arm salute was unveiled over the weekend as an unofficial symbol of opposition to the coup.
“At this point we are monitoring the movement,” said Colonel Weerachon Sukhondhapatipak, a spokesman for the 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.”
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 TV stations and blocking hundreds of websites.
On Sunday, authorities deployed 6,000 soldiers and police in Bangkok to prevent planned protests against the coup.
Amid the heavy security, creative forms of protest emerged. Some people wore masks as they walked through a central shopping district. Others joined small flash mobs, or stood alone, and flashed three fingers in the air.
Asked what the symbol meant, protesters differ Some said it stands for 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 science fiction blockbuster The Hunger Games with a graphic of three fingers labelled, 1) No Coup; 2) Liberty; 3) Democracy.
In the movie series and the book trilogy it is based on by Suzanne Collins, the salute is a symbol of rebellion against totalitarian rule and stands for: Thank you, Admiration and Goodbye to someone you love.
“We know it comes from the movie, and let’s say it represents resistance against the authorities,” Col Weerachon said, noting that if authorities encounter the salute they will first ask protesters to stop. “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.
“If it persists, then we will have to make an arrest,” he said. Social activist Sombat Boonngam-anong, who has helped organise anti-coup protests, posted an explanation of the salute on his Facebook page along with a call to step up the silent acts of defiance.
“Raising three fingers has become a symbol in calling for fundamental political rights,” wrote Sombat, a member of the Red Shirt protest movement that backed the now-ousted government and warned that it would take action if there was a coup.
He called on people to raise “three fingers, three times a day” – at 9am, 1pm and 5pm – in safe public places where no police or military is present. Let’s escalate the anti-coup movement three times a day together,” he said, stipulating that protesters should raise their right arm and stay still for 30 seconds.
Thailand has been calm since the army overthrew the nation’s elected government on 22 May, saying it had to restore order after seven months of demonstrations that had triggered sporadic violence and left the country’s political rivals in a stalemate.