Hunger Games Protest: An analysis from New York Times, Prachathai & The Conversation

A few weeks ago, in London, there was the world premier of Hunger Games latest installment, Mockingjay. And out of no-where, about 100 to 200 Thais in the UK, gathered, and start protesting, the Thai junta at the movie world premier. Many carried signs, calling Thailand, District Thai. A District in the movie Hunger Games, is mainly a held territory, under a dictatorship, fighting for freedom.

The following is from the New York Times (Source)

BANGKOK

A Thai theater chain has withdrawn the latest “Hunger Games” movie after several student protesters were detained for using a gesture taken from the films, a three-finger salute of resistance to authoritarian government.

The salute, which in the movies is a daring act of silent rebellion, began to appear here in the weeks after the May 22 coup. The authorities warned that anyone raising it in public could be subject to arrest.

The military government in Thailand has clamped down on all forms of protest, censored the country’s news media, limited the right to public assembly and arrested critics and opponents. Hundreds of academics, journalists and activists have been detained for up to a month, according to Human Rights Watch.

Thais opposed to last month’s coup made a three-fingered salute during a demonstration at a mall in Bangkok on Sunday.Open Source: Thai Protesters Flash ‘Hunger Games’ Salute to Register Quiet DissentJUNE 2, 2014

The arrests came on Wednesday, before the premiere in Thailand of “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1.” Five students in T-shirts bearing the slogan “We don’t want the coup” flashed the sign during a speech by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the coup and later became head of the military government.

The students were quickly detained by the police, who handed them over to military authorities.

Army officials later confirmed that the students were held for several hours for “attitude adjustment” and then released. They were told to report back the next day with their parents and still could be charged with violating martial law.

The prime minister was making his first visit to northeastern Thailand, the heartland of the red shirt political movement that supports former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006. Armed soldiers are highly visible in the northeast, manifesting the military’s control, while there is little sign of them in Bangkok’s streets.

The prime minister appeared to take the students’ protest in stride, according to local news reports. He was quoted as saying: “Well, that’s it. But it’s O.K. Go easy on them. We will take care of the problems. Any more protests? Make it quick.”

Three more students were detained in Bangkok on Thursday outside a theater where the film was being shown.

The students were members of a protest group that said it had bought hundreds of tickets to a showing of the film and planned to hand them out free, according to The Bangkok Post.

The theater chain, Apex, quickly canceled showings of the film. A spokesman for Apex told the newspaper that the company acted because “we feel our theaters are being used for political movements.”

In “The Hunger Games” novels by Suzanne Collins and in the films based on them, the salute begins as a gesture of gratitude and farewell and evolves into a symbol of defiance. One of the detained students, Natchacha Kongudom, told reporters, “The three-finger sign is a sign to show that I am calling for my basic right to live my life.”

Francis Lawrence, the director of several films in the series, said he was both excited and concerned that the salute was being used in Thailand.

“We were shooting when this started happening,” he said in remarks reported by The Sydney Morning Herald. “Part of it is sort of thrilling, that something that happens in the movie can become a symbol for people, for freedom or protest.”

But he added: “When kids start getting arrested for it, it takes the thrill out of it, and it becomes much more dangerous, and it makes the feeling much more complex. When people are getting arrested for doing something from your movie, it’s troubling.”

One student who was detained performed another banned act of protest, silently reading George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984” in public.

The military government in Bangkok says its crackdown on dissent is necessary to restore calm to a nation that was torn by months of street protests leading to the coup. It has said it plans to hold a general election eventually, and then hand power to a civilian government, but that a number of conditions must first be met.

A new constitution is being drafted, including a proposal by the military to make the current restrictions on the news media permanent; news groups are challenging the proposal.

The following is from Prachathai (Source)

Exclusive interview with Khon Kaen student activist detained for 3-fingered salute

Submitted by taweporn on Thu, 20/11/2014 – 10:13

On Wednesday morning five student activists from the Dao Din group at northeastern Khon Kaen University were arrested after they flashed the three-fingered salute, a dissent gesture adopted from the Hunger Games, as junta leader Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha visited Khon Kaen Province.

While Gen Prayut was giving a speech to civil servants at Khon Kaen Provincial Hall, the activists came and flashed the three-fingered salute and shouted “We’re against the coup.”

During their interrogation at Si Patcharin military camp in Khon Kaen, the military pressured the students to admit their ‘guilt’ and sign a document stating that they will not hold any further anti-coup activity. However, all of the students insisted they would not sign the document. The military then brought their parents in to pressure the students and threatened that if they do not sign the document, they will be dismissed from the university and officially charged.

At around 6.30 pm the military released the five activists but demanded that they come back with their parents on Thursday morning.

Prachatai interviewed Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, a fifth year student at Khon Kaen University’s Faculty of Law, one of the five, on his goals for holding the activity, his experience at the camp and whether he will ‘surrender’ this morning.

Jatupat Boonpattararaksa is at the centre. They wore t-shirts saying in Thai ‘mai ao rat-pra-harn’, meaning ‘No Coup’ under their jackets. They later took off their jackets in front of Gen Prayut revealing the message, flashed the salute and announced “We’re against the coup.”

The five student activists hug each other at the military camp on Thursday morning before being separated when talking with the military.

Why did you decide to do this activity?

Dao Din has long been working on human rights,  community rights, democracy and human rights violations against villagers. After the coup, villagers faced even more violations. For example, the military went to the village and suppressed villagers living near the Loei ore mine. We have been active on human rights and equality for long time.

We went [to protest against the coup on Wednesday] because today there are more and more human rights violations. We can’t stand this anymore. Yes, they have told us to stop any activity. At that time it wasn’t a political activity. Our activity was related to the villagers. The point is, under these circumstances, we and the villagers cannot make any move.

They prohibit the villagers from speaking about the problems. They used martial law to suppress the villagers. The military have detained and confined the villagers. How could the problem be solved?

Therefore, when the Prime Minister visited [Isan], we had to highlight our goal: Lift martial law. We don’t agree with the imposition of martial law because the law opens the door for violations of rights, liberty, rights to resources etc. We went there to take action. Also because the PM was visiting Isan for the first time so we think we must do something.

We talked and agreed that what the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) does is to create a climate of fear . . . so we decided that at least our action will confirm that what the NCPO does is not right. If there’s no opposition, it would look as if this coup and martial law is legitimate.

We did it because we’re frustrated. Before we had the freedom to hold an activity anywhere we wanted. But today it’s very difficult to make any move. We must tell the dictator that at least here there are some people who don’t want that. We want to show to the world that there are many more people who disapprove of the coup, but they may not dare enough to show up.

What happened after you were detained?

We were taken to the criminal investigation department [at the police station]. We wrote down our names, faculties, etc. We were asked how we got here. Later we were taken to Si Patcharin military camp, there were two documents. The first one asked how we got there, where we got our t-shirts, how we got funding, what our political ideologies are, whether we faced any criminal charges, etc. The other is an agreement with the military, which we did not sign.

What are the conditions in that agreement?

The condition is that we will stop political activities. If we act, we agree to be arrested. We didn’t sign because we believe what we did was right. If we signed, it would mean we obeyed this law, so we didn’t sign. We explained to them that we didn’t sign because it’s against our conscience.

They said if we don’t sign, the next step is to have the university remove our student status and have the police charge us. So now there are no charges. But when we were at the camp earlier, they said they would charge us for violating martial law.

Have they talked to the university?

They told us that they have talked and will have our student status removed. They added that the military has good ties with the university. Well, the rector is quite antagonistic toward us since we regularly rally against them on various issues, such as the privatization of the university.

At the camp, a military police officer and the chief of military staff talked with us softly. Later the head of the military intelligence unit interrogated us. They forced us to stand against the wall and admit to being guilty, but we didn’t, we insisted that we’ll accept [the consequences]. We argued that [martial] law is unjust and we can’t accept that. Later, they became harsher. They gave us two choices: admit our guilt and be released or not admit it and get fired from the university.

All five chose the second choice. They forced us to take off our t-shirts, which we refused, so the military police took off our t-shirts.

After they used tough methods and it didn’t work, they used our families to pressure us.

Although the military police took off their t-shirts with messages against the coup, they still flashed the anti-coup symbol three-fingered salute in front of Si Patcharin Camp after their release.

What did your families say?

All of our parents came to Khon Kaen. Some understand, some are very worried, some cried and some scolded us. In the end, one of us was pressured by his family into deciding to accept the military’s conditions. The four others insist on fighting on and accept the consequences of dropping out of university.

Tomorrow, at 10 am at the camp, we’ll go there and insist the same thing. They think we will change our minds after they brought our families in. We won’t. They will have our parents sign a paper acknowledging the removal of our university student status.

Is there anything you want to tell society?

Follow your conscience. I believe many people know what is right and wrong. I don’t think the NCPO can successfully brainwash people until they don’t know what is right and wrong. I’d like to tell them that if you’re frustrated, don’t be afraid. Dictatorship fears people. It may be difficult to do something like this, but please just do it. It’s something a human must do.

Everyone has the right to fear. But at the same time as we fear, we also have courage. I want everyone to do what they want. We did it today and found that there was nothing. We just walked there. It is up to us whether we are or are not afraid.

This is the era of young people, the new era where everyone helps setting the trend of our society and our country. Everyone should express their thoughts. I also have my thoughts and we should be allowed to exchange thoughts. The military should not force people to listen to them only.

We want you to fight.

The following is from the Conversation (Source)

Third Hunger Games film poses biggest protest threat yet to Thai government

Thailand’s prime minister, General Prayut Chan-ocha, has a problem on his hands. You may be surprised to learn that this problem is in the form of a teen fantasy film – The Hunger Games. Imagine Obama getting his political knickers in a twist about Twilight (no, I’m not making this up).

For those unfamiliar with the hugely successful franchise, The Hunger Games is about the plight of an enslaved people who live in outlying districts. They are crushed and controlled by a brutal authoritarian regime centred in a fictional, futuristic capital.

There’s little the General can do to prevent people from drawing analogies with the situation in Thailand. Such parallels have gone neither unnoticed nor unreported and the release of the third film has provided another opportunity for people to flag these up. The world premiere of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, held in London’s Leicester Square, saw group of protesters waving a prominent white banner emblazoned with the slogan “District Thai”.

Sandwiches and 1984

When the Thai military took power in a coup on May 22 this year citizens sought quiet forms of peaceful protest after being banned from assembling in groups of more than five, or from voicing opposition to the coup. These were often cultural. They sat silently in fours reading copies of George Orwell’s 1984. They ate sandwiches in public to mark the suppression of protests that erupted outside a branch of MacDonalds in central Bangkok in the immediate aftermath of the coup. They adopted the three-finger salute of The Hunger Games in defiance of what they saw as an undemocratic, unconstitutional military take-over.

The response of the junta was swift: 1984 was banned; the public consumption of sandwiches was banned; and performing the Hunger Games salute became an illegal act. Several days later one Bangkok university student was hauled away from the capital’s central shopping district of Siam Square for eating a sandwich while reading Orwell’s timeless classic.

This week the same student and the same district are back in the news following his re-arrest for simply holding a ticket for The Hunger Games. When student activists block-booked the screening at the Scala Cinema with the intention of redistributing the tickets for free in an act of protest, Scala withdrew all showings of the film.

Across the road, at the Paragon cinema complex, screenings have proceeded with extensive military presence. Three student activists were arrested for performing the three-finger salute at another Bangkok screening.

The symbolic significance of the hand gesture was demonstrated before General Prayut ’s very eyes when he spoke at an event in the North East of the country earlier this week. Five fearless Khon Kaen University law students stripped off their shirts to reveal T-shirt-messages rejecting military rule. Their three fingers raised in the air, they were immediately taken into military detention and although released soon after, are due to be recalled at a later date for “attitude adjustment”.

Despite intimidation by the military, the Thai government’s power to control audiences’ access to, and interpretation of, an internationally marketed and globally popular movie is severely limited. Banning the sale of a translated literary text such as 1984 was immediately effective. It nipped in the bud a form of protest restricted to a relatively small group of people. (Though the country’s numerous radical intellectuals will have scoffed at last week’s glaringly Orwellian example of doublespeak in military briefings to the Thai press: “We do not limit media freedom but freedom must be within limits”.)

Sandwiches, too, didn’t pose such a threat. Banning their consumption might even have come as a quiet relief to many Thais who have never acquired a taste for this unpalatable Western rice-substitute.

Mockingjay

The power of the moving image, presented through compelling action heroes and captivating CGI pyrotechnics, has a much more immediate and uncontrollable effect. Earlier films centred on the cruel games held by the capital in which a boy and a girl from each of the 12 districts were chosen and placed in an arena to fight to the death. This was all recorded and broadcast, Big Brother style. But in Mockingjay we’re one step further – full on rebellion.

Mockingjay is self-consciously aware of its own relationship to propaganda. It tells the tale of the crucial battle for air time and the shaping of leaders who are good on camera and can inspire the support of the people. The ritualised on-screen broadcasts from the capital bear an undeniable resemblance to Thai military TV, while District 13’s call to arms seems at times to have been scripted with the Thai political crisis in mind.

Ultimately, however, Thai audiences might struggle to imagine a feisty, grass roots local mockingjay that equates to the film’s heroine, Katniss Everdine. And ultimately too, the majority of Thais are unlikely to be in support of the all-out call to arms that she champions. Regardless, the film is a poignant metaphor.

Could it spark a revolution? Maybe not. But the local popularity and international profile of such a series as the Hunger Games means that censorship and withdrawal of screenings in Thailand not an option. The world is watching; and Mockingjay cannot be suppressed.

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