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Swatch sues Malaysian government over banned rainbow watches

By Don-Alvin Adegeest


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Swatch Pride series Credits: Swatch

The annual surge in the release of Pride-themed products, adorned with vibrant rainbow flags in support of LGBTQ+ equality, shows no sign of slowing down, as brands hope to gain their share of the pink pound. Nevertheless, certain products are embroiled in controversy, not due to their ostentatiousness, but for running afoul of local laws.

Malaysian authorities recently confiscated a series of Pride watches from Swiss conglomerate Swatch. The watchmaker unveiled a collection of timepieces inspired by the iconic Pride flag, with each design encompassing the bold colors representing the flag and featuring a symmetrical seconds hand symbolizing equality. However, these watches were found to be in violation of Malaysia's stringent anti-gay laws, leading to the intervention by authorities.

According to court documents revealed to Reuters, Malaysia's home minister ordered the seizure of 172 watches from 16 outlets across the country’s malls and retailers. Human Rights Watch, a prominent advocacy group, contends that government officials have contributed to a hostile environment, wherein individuals identifying as LGBTQ+ and those with diverse gender identities endure discrimination and punishment based on their sexual orientation or gender expression.

Swatch, in response to the lawsuit, staunchly defended its position, asserting that the confiscated watches posed no threat whatsoever to public order, morality, or any legal boundaries. However, in Malaysia, a country with a predominantly Muslim population, LGBTQ rights are not officially recognized, making such products subject to regulatory scrutiny.

The lawsuit filed by Swatch, naming the home affairs ministry and the government of Malaysia as respondents, is slated to be heard at the High Court in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday, as disclosed by Nizam Bashir, Swatch's legal representative, in an interview with AFP.