Five Thai students were detained Wednesday after they flashed a salute seen as being anti-junta at Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha.
The students had also taken off their jackets to reveal t-shirts with the words “we don’t accept the coup” as Chan-ocha gave a speech in northeastern Khon Kaen province, according to Thai news website Prachatai.
While taken aback by the youths shouting their opposition to the military’s seizure of power in May, Chan-ocha responded by saying, “it is okay, we are all Thais.”
The students, members of an activist group called “Dao Din” at Khon Kaen University, were taken into custody and interrogated for several hours at a local police station before their transfer to a military camp.
After the arrest, a member of the group told the website his five comrades had organized the protest to counter Defense Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan’s remark the day before. Prawit had said premier Chan-ocha could go wherever he wanted in Thailand because he “did not have any conflict with anyone or any enemy in the country.”
According to the member, the students wanted to show the junta chief was not welcome in Khon Kaen, a fiefdom of the “Red Shirts” - opponents of Thailand’s military and bureaucratic establishment.
“We will not obey any orders or policies that come from the dictatorial government,” the group said in a statement on Prachatai.
It added: “We are asking General Prayuth Chan-ocha to lift martial law, which is causing problems for people throughout the country who are not able to express their opinions, which is a destruction of fundamental human rights.”
Several students from the activist group were arrested and detained at a military camp in early June for trying to mobilize villagers against a copper mine project in nearby Loei province.
The Thai military overthrew a civilian government led by Yingluck Shinawatra on May 22 after seven months of massive anti-government demonstrations, joined mostly by Bangkok’s middle-class and the country’s conservative elite. Martial law, declared two days before the coup, continues to be implemented across the country.
Yingluck had largely won a landslide election victory in July 2011 with the votes of Red Shirts, supporters of the Shinawatra political clan who mostly live in the rural north and northeastern parts of the Kingdom.
The three-finger salute first used in the French revolution, but now synonymous with "The Hunger Games" series of films, has become a symbol for anti-coup protests.
Immediately after the coup, hundreds of academics, activists and journalists were briefly detained in military camps as soldiers were deployed across Bangkok to counter any protests.
There have been no significant anti-coup demonstrations since the beginning of June, but academics and media have become increasingly assertive in their criticism of the junta’s policies over the last days, especially due to stringent restrictions imposed on the press.
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