Bangkok: The United Nations criticised Thailand's junta on Friday for detaining people caught throwing a three-fingered protest salute inspired by "The Hunger Games" movies, as the prime minister warned that people using the defiant gesture could "jeopardise their future".
The salute has become the unofficial symbol of resistance against the army's May coup with scores detained for using it, including six students this week.
The same gesture is used in the fictional Hollywood blockbuster franchise by rebels fighting against a dictatorial regime.
General Prayut Chan-O-Cha, the prime minister, said he felt unthreatened by such protests but warned those caught using the gesture risked creating problems for themselves.
"I'm not concerned by the three-finger protest," the junta chief told reporters today. But he added ominously: "I don't know whether it is illegal or not but it could jeopardise their futures."
His comments came as the UN Human Rights Office for South-East Asia (OHCHR) criticised the authorities for a recent spate of instances where people were led away for questioning after making the salute.
"This case is the latest illustration of a worrying pattern of human rights violations, which has the effect of suppressing critical and independent voices," local OHCHR representative Matilda Bogner said.
Ongoing martial law makes any public demonstration illegal and the military junta said today it has no plans to lift the restrictions any time soon.
"It will stay until the country has peace and order," junta spokesman Colonel Werachon Sukondhapatipak said.
A female university student yesterday was detained by plainclothes officers outside an upmarket mall in Bangkok for flashing the salute in front of a large publicity poster for the film.
A day earlier five students were briefly held by the military for flashing the three-finger sign during a speech by Prayut in the northeastern province of Khon Kaen.