By Iman Muttaqin and Ili Shazwani
Swiss watchmaker Swatch Group has filed a lawsuit against the Malaysian government for confiscating 172 rainbow-colored watches that promote LGBTQ+ rights.
Malaysia’s Ministry of Home Affairs seized the watches worth 64,795 ringgit ($14,250) from the company’s Pride Collection during raids at 16 outlets between May 13-15.
Home Affairs Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail said the timepieces were confiscated because they contained the acronym LGBTQ, which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer.
The LGBTQ+ community has long faced discrimination in Malaysia, where homosexuality is forbidden and sodomy can be punished with imprisonment and corporal punishment.
The “arbitrary” seizures, done without prior notice, caused loss and damage to the company’s trading reputation, Swatch said in the lawsuit filed on June 23 at the Kuala Lumpur High Court.
The company is seeking the return of the watches and substantive damages.
Swatch said most of the watches did not contain the LGBTQ+ letters but were inspired by several colors of the rainbow. It also said the seizure notices did not clearly state on what basis the watches were being confiscated.
“As far as we are aware, rainbow images or LGBTQIA2S+ words are not banned in Malaysia,” Swatch said in the lawsuit.
The company said it received no complaint from authorities or the public that the designs were problematic, nor was it given any opportunity to be heard before the raids.
The judicial review named four respondents, namely the government of Malaysia, the Home Affairs Ministry, the ministry’s chief secretary and the ministry’s enforcement division secretary.
The case will be heard at the Kuala Lumpur High Court On Thursday.
The Home Affairs Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The raids on the Swatch stores intensified concern about increasing homophobia and extremism in Malaysia, where discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community is often led by the country’s politicians.
In February, the government made headlines when it banned two children’s books due to allegations they promoted “LGBT lifestyles,” as well as a novel deemed “harmful to Malaysian morals.”
More recently, conservative political parties have called for a concert by chart-topping British band Coldplay to be canceled, due to its support of the pride movement.