In Malaysia, government authorities raided 11 Swatch stores in shopping malls across the country and seized the Swiss company’s Pride collection watches. 164 Swatches in rainbow colors were confiscated in the raids May 13 and 14.
In a summons notice for one Swatch outlet seen by Agence France-Presse, Malaysia’s home affairs ministry inventoried “22 Swatch watches with LGBT elements” as confiscated.
According to the notice, the seizure was based on Malaysia’s Printing Presses and Publications Act of 1984, a law commonly invoked for state-sponsored censorship in the Muslim-majority country.
Homosexuality is outlawed in the island nation, and sodomy can be punished with imprisonment and corporal punishment, although enforcement is rare.
Malaysia has a dual-track legal system, with Islamic criminal and family laws applicable to Muslims alongside civil laws. Members of the Malay-Muslim majority are prohibited from expressing gender and sexuality that contradict Islamic teachings.
Nick Hayek, Swatch Group CEO, condemned the raid.
“We strongly contest that our collection of watches using rainbow colors and having a message of peace and love could be harmful. On the contrary, Swatch always promotes a positive message of joy in life. This is nothing political.”
The CEO added: “We wonder how the home ministry’s enforcement unit will confiscate the many beautiful natural rainbows that show up a thousand times a year in the sky of Malaysia.”
Sarah Kok, marketing manager for Swatch Malaysia, said she has orders to get the rainbow Swatches back on shelves: “As per instruction from Switzerland HQ, we will still replenish the stock and display them on shelf.”
The surprise Swatch raid follows controversy over a recently announced Malaysia tour date for the band Coldplay. Tickets for the November concert in Kuala Lumpur sold out within hours last week, but Muslim politicians are condemning the band for promoting an LGBTQ+ “agenda.”
“If it has aspects of ‘immoral actions,’ the concert could negatively influence Muslims and non-Muslims alike,” said Pahang Mufti Datuk Seri Abdul Rahman Osman, a member of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party. “If the matter is clearly inviting people to the LGBT agenda and forgetting God, we must stand firm against it.”
“There isn’t a need for that for Muslims,” he added. “Actually, no one likes the LGBT community.”
Two days before the Swatch crackdown, one Malay Facebook user seems to have anticipated the government’s censorious raid.
“No need to wait for Coldplay,” the user posted. “Whoever wears the Swatch watch can throw it away now!”