Malaysia seizes Swatch watches over ‘LGBT connotations’

Swiss watchmaker says authorities in Muslim majority country seized 164 LGBTQ pride-themed watches.

Swatch watches
Malaysia criminalises sexual activity between members of the same sex [File: Allison Dinner/AFP]

Malaysian authorities have seized watches released by Swiss company Swatch to celebrate LGBTQ pride, the latest incident to raise concerns about the rights of sexual minorities in the Muslim-majority country.

Swatch said on Tuesday that authorities had carried out raids on Swatch stores at 11 shopping malls on May 13 and 14, seizing 164 watches worth a total of $14,000.

The Swiss watchmaker, based in Biel/Bienne, released its line of brightly coloured timepieces inspired by the rainbow flag to “celebrate the unity and diversity that make our society — and Swatch — so strong.”

Swatch Group Chief Executive Nick Hayek expressed concern about the raids, questioning how a message of “peace and love could be harmful”.

“We wonder how the home ministry’s enforcement unit will confiscate the many beautiful natural rainbows that are showing up thousand times a year in the sky of Malaysia,” Hayek said in a statement.

Officials from Malaysia’s home affairs ministry said “22 Swatch watches with LGBT elements” had been confiscated at one Switch outlet, according to a summons notice issued under the Printing Presses and Publications Act of 1984 and cited by the AFP news agency.

Swatch said it planned to replenish its stocks of the watches and continue to sell them in the Southeast Asian country.

In a statement posted on Twitter, the Malaysian LGBTQ-rights advocacy group JEJAKA condemned the raid and said it revealed “a deeply unsettling level of intolerance”.

Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution told the Associated Press news agency that he was waiting for a full report on the incident before commenting on the matter.

Malaysia, which is about 60 percent Muslim, criminalises sexual activity between members of the same sex and prohibits the Malay-Muslim majority from partaking in expressions of gender and sexuality that go against Islamic teachings.

On Tuesday, two members of parliament from the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), the largest single party in Malaysia’s parliament, said that LGBTQ people should be classified as suffering from a mental illness.

Earlier this month, a senior PAS official called for an upcoming concert by British rock band Coldplay to be cancelled in a social media post featuring a picture of frontman Chris Martin holding a rainbow flag.

In October, religious police raided an LGBTQ-friendly Halloween party in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown, arresting 20 Muslim men for cross-dressing.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies