Pride-themed Swatch watches have been seized by authorities in Malaysia in raids of 11 of its stores, reportedly due to ‘LGBT symbols’ on the timepieces.
The raids happened between 13 to 15 May and around $14,000 (£11,347) worth of stock was seized, according to various media reports.
The watches were part of the brand’s 2023 Pride collection, launched on 4 May, which features six different watch faces in Pride colours. Each watch strap is made up of two bands containing colours that make up the full Pride flag.
As reported by local newspaper MalayMail, Malaysian prime minister Anwar Ibrahim was questioned about the seizures while making his way to parliament on Thursday (25 May).
Ibrahim told reporters: “The only fact I know is that the confiscation was because the watches had LGBT symbols, not because of the colours.”
In a statement to the AFP news agency, Swatch Malaysia’s marketing manager Sarah Kok said the stock would be replenished and displayed on shelves.
Swatch Group chief executive Nick Hayek said the company “strongly contests” that the watches “could be harmful”, saying that the collection is meant to spread a message of peace and love.
“We wonder how the Home Ministry’s enforcement unit will confiscate the many beautiful natural rainbows that are showing up thousand times a year in the sky of Malaysia,” he said.
AFP quoted an anonymous ministry official who said the watches had “LGBT” on them and had six colours (as in the Pride flag) instead of seven in a rainbow.
Malaysia currently has no protections for LGBTQ+ people, and its poor track record on LGTBQ+ rights was recently highlighted with by the country’s handling of calls to cancel a scheduled Coldplay concert.
The band’s November performance was announced in same the week that the watch raids took place, and welcomed on social media by Ibrahim.
However, an opposition MP called for it to be cancelled because frontman Chris Martin has been pictured holding Pride flags in the past.
Ibrahim’s local government development minister, Nga Kor Ming, hit back, describing such a call an “old-fashioned way of thinking” that was “not suitable for our multicultural society”.