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5 arrested for 'Hunger Games' salute
02:11 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Lawyer: 5 Thai students flash "Hunger Games" salute in front of Prime Minister

The university students wore shirts that read, "Don't want a military coup"

They were held for eight hours, says Thai human rights lawyer Phavinee Chimsri

Protest leader Sombat Boonngamanong often employs pop culture references

Bangkok, Thailand CNN  — 

Five university students who used the signature three-fingered salute from “The Hunger Games” in front of Thailand’s Prime Minister were detained Wednesday and told they’ll face a charge of breaking martial law, a lawyer said.

The students were taken away after flashing the salute – popularized by the film’s central figure, Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence) – at a speech in northeastern Thailand by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to civil servants, according to Phavinee Chumsri, from the group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

At the time, the quintet in Khon Kaen province – about 450 kilometers (280 miles) northeast of Bangkok – was in a line wearing shirts bearing the words “Don’t want a military coup,” Phavinee said.

A Thai government spokesman did not respond to CNN calls for comment on the matter.

But, according to Phavinee, the Khon Kaen University students were taken to a Thai army facility, Camp Sri Patcharin, where they refused to sign an agreement not to participate in political activities. They were released after about eight hours, the lawyer said, but have been asked to come back on the charge that they broke the martial law that’s been in effect in Thailand since Prayuth – then the army’s chief – announced in May the the country had been placed under military control.

Since then, the junta imposed a series of measures purportedly aimed at restoring order and resolving the crisis, including media blackouts, curfews and bans on public assembly.

Yet, the opposition hasn’t gone away.

Hollywood has played a role in part of this movement, thanks in part to protest leader Sombat Boonngamanong. On Twitter and elsewhere, Sombat has often used pop-culture references to spread his messages.

One such reference that appears to have resonated comes from the films based on the book series by Suzanne Collins. Katniss, a teenage girl who competes in a spectacle of blood lust known as the Hunger Games, displays the three-finger gesture, which becomes a symbol of revolution against a tyrannical government.

The third movie installment in the series, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1,” is due to hit theaters in Thailand on Thursday.

But one cinema in Bangkok canceled all showings of the movie after a pro-democracy student group bought tickets and planned to hold a meeting at the Lido Scala in the center of the city, according to Ratthapon Supasopon, of the League of Liberal Thammasart for Democracy (LLTD).

He said the management informed them of the move and refunded their money.

CNN’s Kocha Olarn reported from Bangkok and Greg Botelho wrote this story from Atlanta.