Owners or sellers of rainbow-coloured timepieces made by Swiss watchmaker Swatch face three years in prison in Malaysia, the interior ministry said Thursday, as the Muslim-majority country rails against LGBTQ symbols it says could “harm morals”.
Homosexuality is outlawed in Malaysia and LGBTQ people face repeated discrimination.
Malaysia’s law enforcement unit at the interior ministry raided Swatch stores at 11 shopping malls across the country in May, including in the capital Kuala Lumpur, for timepieces bearing what it called “LGBT elements”.
Anyone who “prints, imports, produces… or has in his possession” such items now faces a jail term of up to three years, the ministry said in a statement.
Any individual wearing or distributing the watches could also be fined 20,000 Malaysian ringgit ($4,375), according to the ban notice.
“The Malaysian government is committed to preventing the spread of elements that are harmful or may be harmful to morals,” the ministry said in a statement.
It said the watches “may harm… the interests of the nation by promoting, supporting and normalising the LGBTQ+ movement that is not accepted by the general public”.
A ministry official told AFP in May that 172 watches worth $14,000 were seized in raids because they bore the “LGBTQ” acronym and had six colours instead of the seven in a rainbow.
The six-colour rainbow Pride flag is one of the most well-known LGBTQ symbols globally.
According to the summons notice, the seizure was based on the Printing Presses and Publications Act of 1984, which critics have condemned as draconian.
Swatch filed a lawsuit against the Malaysian government in June over the seizure, writing that the watches “did not promote any sexual activity but merely a fun and joyous expression of peace and love”.
The ban comes ahead of elections in six Malaysian states on Saturday that will serve as a barometer of public sentiment for Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s unity government against a powerful opposition consisting of Malay-Muslim political parties.
He has been criticised by the opposition who allege he is not doing enough to protect Malaysia’s Islamic values. Anwar says his government will not back LGBTQ rights.