Malaysian authorities confiscate PRIDE-themed Swatch watches

Pride collection of Swatch.

Pride collection of Swatch. Image from the press release of Swatch on its Malaysian page.

Malaysian officers under the Home Ministry raided 11 stores on May 13 and 14 and confiscated 160 Pride collection watches made by Swatch, a Swiss watch company.

According to reports, enforcers said the Pride watches were confiscated because they promote lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) ideologies. The seizure was done under the Printing Presses and Publication Act of 1984, which broadly empowers authorities to block the spread of content that is deemed harmful to public morality, order, and security of the state.

The prime minister confirmed that the operation was done because of the use of LGBTQ+ symbols on the watches, such as the rainbow flag, which is a symbol of LGBTQ+ pride.

In recent years, hardline Malaysian religious leaders have been pushing for stricter implementation of Islamic laws. They have lobbied for the banning of some books, movies, and concerts because of content that promotes or supports the LGBTQ+ community.

The confiscated watches are part of the Swatch Pride Collection, which are still accessible on the Malaysian page of the company’s website.

With open hearts and minds, Swatch welcomes all people and celebrates all love. The 2023 rainbow flag-inspired collection is loud, proud, uplifting and bursting with meaning.

Vibrant designs represent six colors of the Pride flag – a symbol of humanity that speaks for all genders and all races.

Swatch said the seized items were worth a total of USD 14,000. Swatch's chief executive officer Nick Hayek insisted that the design of the watches is not political.

We strongly contest that our collection of watches that uses rainbow colours and carry a message of peace and love could be harmful to whomever.

This is nothing political. We wonder how the Enforcement and Control Division at the Ministry of Home Affairs will confiscate the many beautiful natural rainbows that show up thousand of times a year in the sky of Malaysia.

The company also clarified that there is no direct LGBTQ+ label on the watches. “The latest collection only displayed the words Nature, Growth, Life, Passion, Healing and Spirit on the seconds hand to symbolize equality.”

Reacting to the raid, Small and Medium Enterprises Association chairman William Ng expressed concern about its impact on the business community in a statement:

The industry has put in a lot of effort in the past — even now — to attract international players such as the Swatch Group.

An overreaction such as this makes it difficult for Malaysia to defend its position as a regional retail hotspot.

The Malaysian United Democratic Alliance deputy president Amira Aisya Abdul Aziz also raised a similar worry:

Justice for Sisters said the raid was “another form of increasing intolerance and discrimination against LGBTIQ people in Malaysia.” It urged the Home Ministry to explain the rationale of the raid since there were reports that a viral social media post provoked authorities to target Swatch watches.

LGBTIQ people or content are vulnerable to false reporting or ‘complaints’ via tagging of government agencies on social media platforms. Government agencies, typically, without assessing the elements of bias of the complaint, subject LGBTQ people or LGBT-related content creators to investigations, persecution and among other forms of victimization.

Journalist Wong Chun Wai said the raid “is a classic case of over-reacting.”

Something is terribly wrong when we prefer to worry about rainbow-coloured watches and a comedian when politicians ignore more important concerns like how to boost the economy, the cost of living and education standards.

He was referring to a transgender Singaporean comedian whose show was only made accessible to non-Muslims.

ARTICLE-19 Malaysia, a human rights watchdog, challenged the new government to review the laws that are being weaponized against critics and members of minority communities.

After the raid, some conservative leaders in Parliament wanted to treat LGBTQ+ identities as a mental health problem. Last week, the Malaysian Muslim Consumers Association proposed the creation of a task force to combat the “LGBTQ+ ideology,” which they called a “poison in the community.”

Swatch said it is considering legal action to recover the confiscated watches.

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