Swatch dares Malaysia to confiscate rainbows after Pride watch raids
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Kuala Lumpur: Multiple raids on Swatch stores in Malaysia over their sale of Pride-themed rainbow watches has sparked a furious response from the watchmaker and raised renewed doubts about the commitment of the nation’s six-month old coalition government to LGBTQ rights.
The Swiss-based firm blasted the move in an earlier statement after officials from the Home Affairs Ministry confiscated more than 100 watches from its Pride Collection – a series of timepieces with wristbands in the colours of the rainbow – at various shopping centres across the country on May 13 and 14.
Numerous Swatch stores in Malaysia were raided for displaying its Pride Collection.Credit: Swatch Malaysia
“We strongly contest that our collection of watches using rainbow colours and having a message of peace and love could be harmful for whomever,” said Swatch’s chief executive officer Nick Hayek.
He said the watches were “nothing political” and questioned how the country’s authorities “will confiscate the many beautiful natural rainbows that are showing up thousand of times a year in the sky of Malaysia.”
More broadly, the public spat is likely to spark renewed concern about the commitment of a government led by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim to minority rights, amid resurgent support for conservative parties in the majority-Islamic nation.
Criticism of the government has ratcheted up in recent months, led by the Islamist party Parti Islam Se-Malaysia. PAS, as it’s known, emerged as the party with the most seats in parliamentary elections in November, on a wave of youth support, but declined to join a unity government led by Anwar.
It is “very obvious” that the raids are part of a political game the government is “playing to show they are as Islamist as the opposition Perikatan Nasional,” said James Chin, a professor of Asian Studies at the University of Tasmania, referring to a pro-Malay coalition of which PAS is part.
Packs from the Swatch Pride Collection was confiscated by Malaysian police earlier this month.Credit: Swatch Malaysia
The government’s decision to host British band Coldplay for its first concert in the Asian nation later this year turned into another fire-rod for criticism. A leading member of PAS called for it to be cancelled, accusing the government of nurturing “a culture of hedonism”.
Rights groups had reacted with anger to such calls, just as they did to news of the Swatch raid. JEJAKA, a gay rights organisation said it was dismayed by the “unwarranted crackdown” and urged the government “to promote a culture of acceptance and understanding rather than repression and discrimination”.
The Home Affairs Ministry did not respond to a request for comment. Its minister, Saifuddin Nasution, earlier said he was waiting for a full report on the raids before issuing a statement.
Anwar was jailed twice on sodomy charges, although he has called them unjust and received a royal pardon in 2018. He has so far rejected opposition accusations that he plans to legalise same-sex marriage, which like in most of Asia, is not recognised by authorities.
PAS, which governs various states, has also drawn criticism from rights groups for enacting laws which they say discriminate against minorities. This includes a push last year by north-eastern Terengganu state, which PAS controls, to enact a law to punish Muslim women for out-of-wedlock pregnancies and for donning men’s clothing.
“The raid appears to be a way for the government to react to allegations that it is not sensitive to Islamic matters,” ahead of six key state elections due in a few months, said Mohar Tunku Mohd Mokhtar, a political lecturer at the International Islamic University of Malaysia.
Yet some watchers were unsure why the government was getting involved at all. “Based on recent Malaysian history, the opposition always wins at these sorts of games as they can always propose something drastic or radical but the government can’t do that,” said Chin. “This is a very silly game for the government to get involved in.”
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