May 24, 2023
Swatch Dares Malaysia to Confiscate Rainbows After Pride Watches Raid
(Bloomberg) -- Multiple raids on Swatch Group AG’s 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 Malaysia’s home affairs ministry confiscated more than a hundred watches from its Pride Collection — a series of timepieces with rainbow wristbands that come in six colors — at various malls across the country on May 13 and 14.
“We strongly contest that our collection of watches using rainbow colors 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 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 premier 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 an Islamist party known as Parti Islam Se-Malaysia. PAS, as it’s known, emerged as the single party with the most seats in parliamentary elections last 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.
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 canceled, accusing the government of nurturing “a culture of hedonism” in the country.
Rights groups had reacted with anger to such calls, just as they did to news of the Swatch raid. JEJAKA, a gay rights organization 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.”
Malaysia’s home affairs ministry did not respond to a request for comment from Bloomberg News. Its minister Saifuddin Nasution earlier told the Associated Press that he is waiting for a full report on the raids before issuing a statement.
Prime Minister Anwar has been 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 legalize same-sex marriage, which like most of Asia, is not recognized by authorities.
PAS, which governs various states in Malaysia, has also drawn criticism from rights groups for enacting laws which they say discriminate against minorities. This includes a push last year by northeastern Terengganu state, which PAS controls, to enact a law to punish Muslim women for out-of-wedlock pregnancies and 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 is 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.”
--With assistance from Andy Hoffman, Natalie Choy and Kok Leong Chan.
(Updates with more context on PAS in third-last paragraph. An earlier version corrected an erroneous description of Chris Martin.)
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