Swiss watchmaker Swatch said Tuesday that Malaysian authorities had seized 164 rainbow-coloured timepieces worth a total of $14,000 from its Pride Collection.
The LGBT community has long suffered discrimination in Malaysia, where homosexuality is forbidden and sodomy can be punished with imprisonment and corporal punishment, although enforcement is rare.
Eleven shopping malls with Swatch outlets around Malaysia including in the capital Kuala Lumpur were raided on May 13 and 14, the company said.
Nick Hayek, CEO of Swatch Group, voiced dismay over the raids.
“We strongly contest that our collection of watches using rainbow colours and having a message of peace and love could be harmful,” he said in a statement.
“This has nothing political.”
In a summons notice against one Swatch outlet that was seen by AFP, the law enforcement unit of Malaysia’s home affairs ministry said “22 Swatch watches with LGBT elements” were confiscated.
According to the notice, the seizure was based on the Printing Presses and Publications Act of 1984, which critics have long condemned as draconian.
The law is often wielded to ensure content does not offend or undermine race relations in the Muslim-majority multicultural nation.
A ministry official, who did not want to be named, defended the seizure, saying the watches bore the letters “LGBT” and had six colours instead of the seven in a rainbow.
The six-colour pride flag is one of the most well-known symbols of the LGBT community.
“As per instruction from Switzerland HQ, we will still replenish the stock and display them on-shelf,” said Sarah Kok, marketing manager for Swatch Malaysia.
Hayek added: “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.”