Malaysia bans Swatch watches celebrating LGBTQ rights

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia on Thursday banned Swatch Group’s watches and accessories celebrating LGBTQ rights, saying the Swiss watchmaker’s products may be harmful to morality and public interest.

Homosexuality is a crime in Muslim-majority Malaysia, and rights groups have warned of growing intolerance against the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community. Malaysia has jailed or caned people for homosexuality.

In May, Malaysia confiscated rainbow-coloured watches from Swatch’s ‘Pride collection’ because of the presence of the acronym ‘LGBTQ’ on the watches.

The home ministry on Thursday said it was prohibiting any LGBTQ references on Swatch watches, boxes, wrappers, accessories or other items.

“(Swatch products) are subject to the Prohibition Order because they are publications that harm or may harm morality, public interest, and the interest of the state by promoting, supporting, and normalising the LGBTQ+ movement which is not accepted by the general public in Malaysia,” the ministry said.

Selling or owning the banned material is punishable by up to three years in jail and a fine of up to 20,000 ringgit ($4,376), it said.

Swatch did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The company has sued the Malaysian government for the May seizure, which it says was illegal and damaged its reputation.

LGBTQ rights in Malaysia have come under scrutiny after the government last month halted a music festival in the capital Kuala Lumpur. It took the move after the frontman of British pop rock band The 1975 kissed a male bandmate onstage and criticised the country’s anti-LGBTQ laws.

The discussion on LGBTQ rights come at a politically sensitive time in multi-ethnic, multi-faith Malaysia.

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s progressive coalition government will face its first major test of public support on Saturday, when six states hold elections.

The polls will pit Anwar against a mostly conservative ethnic-Malay, Muslim alliance that is gaining in popularity. The opposition has criticised the government for not doing enough to uphold the principles of Islam.

Anwar has said LGBTQ rights will not be recognised by his administration.

($1 = 4.5700 ringgit)

(Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi and Mei Mei Chu; editing by Jason Neely)