LGBTQ+ people in Malaysia face discrimination as homosexuality remains illegal in the country.
In the latest incident, owners or sellers of rainbow-coloured timepieces by Swatch could receive a prison sentence of up to three years, as the government strives to prevent the “spread of elements that are harmful or may be harmful to morals,” the interior ministry said in a statement.
In May, Malaysia’s law enforcement unit at the ministry raided Swatch stores at 11 shopping malls across the country for timepieces bearing the disputed symbols.
The watches “may harm … the interests of the nation” by promoting the LGBTQ+ movement that is not accepted by the general public, the ministry added.
Anyone who prints, imports, produces or owns such timepieces by the Swiss watchmaker could be imprisoned. In addition, any individual found distributing or wearing the items could also face a hefty penalty of around $4,340, according to the ban notice.
Swatch Files Lawsuit Against Malaysian Government Over Seizures
172 watches worth $14,000 were seized in the raids as they bore the “LGBTQ” acronym and had six colours instead of the seven in a rainbow, a ministry official told AFP in May. The six-colour rainbow Pride flag is considered a prominent LGBTQ symbol worldwide.
In response, the watchmaker filed a lawsuit against the Government of Malaysia in June over the seizure, stressing the timepieces did not support any sexual activity but “merely a fun and joyous expression of peace and love”.
Meanwhile, six Malaysian states are set to witness elections on Saturday, which are expected to act as a barometer of public sentiment for Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim‘s administration against the powerful opposition comprising Malay-Muslim parties.
Anwar has been criticised by the opposition who claim he isn’t doing enough to protect the Muslim-majority country’s Islamic values. The prime minister says his government will not help promote and normalise LGBTQ rights.