Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn of Thailand and his wife, Princess Srirasmi, attend a dinner for foreign sovereigns hosted by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall at Buckingham Palace on May 18 2012. — PHOTO: SNAPPER MEDIA
THE office of Thailand’s Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn has revoked the family name of his wife Srirasmi, days after several of her relatives were implicated in a police graft probe.
In a letter issued on Saturday, the Crown Prince’s secretary, Air Chief Marshal Sathipong Sukwimol, terminated the royally bestowed surname of Akharapongpreecha, ordering those using it to revert to their original surname.
The royal family grants surnames to individuals who are deemed to have made great contributions to the country.
Princess Srirasmi, 42, the third wife of Prince Vajiralongkorn, was originally named Srirasmi Akharapongpreecha. They have a nine-year-old son.
Over the past week, her family has been discredited by a widening graft probe involving alleged extortion and oil smuggling, among other crimes.
Her uncle, former Central Investigation Bureau chief Pongpat Chaiyapan, has been charged with graft and lese majeste, an offence that carries a jail sentence of up to 15 years.
According to Bangkok Post reports, he and his collaborators had allegedly cited the monarchy when demanding bribes.
Several other senior policemen have also been implicated in the vast corruption probe, alongside three brothers Natthapol, Sitthisak, and Narong Akharapongpreecha, who are similarly accused of defaming the monarchy.
Narong has also been dismissed from his role as a civil servant in the royal household.
Among those who are allegedly part of this extortion gang is the former chief of a police unit, who fell to his death under mysterious circumstances a week ago and was cremated swiftly.
Thailand is currently governed by martial law following a military coup on May 22.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej is widely revered by Thais, who are anxious about the looming succession. He turns 87 on Dec 5.
Nachacha Kongudom, 21, raises a three-finger salute outside a cinema in Bangkok, Thailand. (Sakchai Lalit/AP/The Atlantic)
While we continue to measure the ideological scope and reach of dystopian cinema on its young acolytes in America, elsewhere, life is beginning to imitate art in a very real way. Earlier this year, protestors in Thailand cribbed the gesture of resistance featured in The Hunger Games following a coup in May.
Posing with the symbol, one supporter tweeted a picture of the gesture, captioning it “Dear #HungerGames. We’ve taken your sign as our own. Our struggle is non-fiction. Thanks.” Danielle Wiener-Bronner explained how the gesture translates:
In the Hunger Games series, the three-fingered salute is used to show solidarity against an dystopian government which forces children to compete to the death in televised events. In Thailand, the salute — along with the phrase “liberty, brotherhood and equality,” taken from the real French Revolution — seems to have been adopted to show solidarity against an unlawful, military-led government.
The military junta, the result of the 12th successful coup out of 19 attempted in Thailand in the past 80 years, seems to taking its cues from central casting. Following its takeover of Thailand’s government, it imposed an onerous curfew and threatened to arrest anyone who used the salute.
Months later, with Mockingjay, Part I, the newest Hunger Games installment, out in theaters, the galvanizing symbol is back in the news. On Wednesday, five Thai students were detained for using the salute during a speech by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha. According to the Bangkok Post, the five, who were wearing anti-coup apparel, were pulled away by military police. Parroting the language of The Capitol, they were remanded to a military camp for an “attitude adjustment.”
On Thursday, three more students were detained in Bangkok after they handed out free tickets to a screening of the film. As Reuters reported, one student, after using the salute in front of the movie poster, explained: “The three-finger sign is a sign to show that I am calling for my basic right to live my life.” She was then taken away.
“We are just inviting them to talk,” said Police Colonel Visoot Chatchaidet.
Following the incident, the movie was pulled from a Bangkok theater chain. Elsewhere in the region, for reasons that also might send Katniss Everdeen reaching into her quiver, China recently announced it was delaying the release of Mockingjay until at least next year.
Activist Nacha Kong-udom was detained on Thursday for flashing a salute in protest against military rule
Thailand’s Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya has said martial law will remain in place “indefinitely”, amid mounting protests of military rule.
His remarks to Reuters come a day after PM Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters that martial law was “necessary” to stop “conflict and social disparity”.
The Thai military took over government on 22 May, and has been criticised for its repression of anti-coup protests.
Several protesters have been arrested in recent weeks.
A number of them have used a three-finger salute inspired by the Hollywood series The Hunger Games, which has been widely adopted as an anti-coup symbol.
A cinema chain in Thailand cancelled screenings of the latest film in the franchise this week, saying it wanted to avoid trouble.
The Hunger Games salute
In the films and books the gesture originally signals gratitude or admiration, but is later turned into a sign of silent dissent against an authoritarian regime.
It has become widely used in Thailand by those protesting against the 22 May military coup.
Some protesters have said it also stands for the French revolution ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity.
In June, Thai authorities warned they would arrest anyone in a large group who gave the salute and refused to lower their arm when ordered.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the coup, has warned that anyone flashing it could “jeopardise their futures”.
Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence has expressed concern that Thai youths are being arrested for using the salute.
‘Army’s tool’In an interview with Reuters news agency on Friday, Gen Paiboon said martial law could not be lifted “because the government and junta need it as the army’s tool”.
“We are not saying that martial law will stay in place for 50 years, no, this is not it. We just ask that it remain in place for now, indefinitely.”
Gen Paiboon denied that the army was abusing the law, saying it “does not violate anyone’s rights”.
On Thursday, Gen Prayuth told local media Thailand still needed martial laws.
“Am I happy? No, I’m not. The longer [martial law] is in place, the more unhappy I become. Yet, it’s necessary,” he said.
“Today, priority must be given to the future of the country. Conflict and social disparity must be stopped.”
The military has argued that by overthrowing the elected government they brought peace and stability to Thailand after an intense and violent political deadlock. Their move was welcomed by many Thais.
It has promised to restore democracy and hold elections in late 2015. But international players have voiced concern that the military is consolidating power in the meantime.
The five students were released without charges on Thursday
Human rights groups say that repression and censorship has intensified under the military regime.
On Thursday, young activist Nacha Kong-udom was arrested outside a Bangkok shopping centre for flashing the three-finger salute in front of a poster for the latest Hunger Games film, Mockingjay.
Two students who reportedly helped to organise a free screening of the movie were also detained.
Five university students were arrested earlier this week for flashing the salute. Wearing T-shirts protesting against the coup, the students had flashed the salute at Gen Prayuth at an event in the northeast region of Khon Kaen.
They were held overnight at a military camp before they were released unconditionally without charge on Thursday, local media reported.
Gen Prayuth told reporters on Friday he was “unconcerned” about the popularity of the salute. Asked if it was banned, he warned: “I don’t know whether it is illegal or not but it could jeopardise their futures.”
Matilda Bogner, a spokeswoman from the UN Human Rights Office for South East Asia, told AFP news agency that the arrests illustrate “a worrying pattern of human rights violations, which has the effect of suppressing critical and independent voices”.
The director of Mockingjay, Francis Lawrence, has also expressed concern, telling Buzzfeed News: “My goal is not for kids to be out there doing things that are getting them arrested.”
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.
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.