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Six questions about: The 'rainbow' Swatch timepieces seized by Malaysia's Home Ministry

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, May 25 — Earlier this week, the Home Ministry seized over 100 watches from local branches of popular Swiss watchmaker Swatch, purportedly due to links to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights movement and its rainbow-coloured theme.

As of today, the ministry has still not commented on the raids despite queries by the media.

However, what do the seized watches actually look like and what probably prompted the raids by the ministry?

Here's a quick summary by Malay Mail of everything we know so far about the rainbow-themed watches that Putrajaya took issue with:

1. How do the Swatch pieces actually look like?

Based on information made available to Malay Mail, the Swatch watches seized in Malaysia featured nine different designs.

Six of the designs under Swatch's 2023 Pride collection are watches in the individual colours of the six-striped Pride Flag, with these watches coming with two "rainbow loops". When the two loops are placed together, the patterns on the loops form the Pride Flag, the Swatch website states.

Swatch celebrating diversity with watch models in the full range of the Pride colours. — Screengrab from Swatch Malaysia's website
Swatch celebrating diversity with watch models in the full range of the Pride colours. — Screengrab from Swatch Malaysia's website

Swatch celebrating diversity with watch models in the full range of the Pride colours. — Screengrab from Swatch Malaysia's website

These six designs each have a word on its minute hand to explain the meaning of each coloured stripe in the Pride Flag. For example, the Proudly Yellow watch design features the word "sunlight", which is the meaning of the yellow strip in the Pride Flag.

The six seized watch designs are titled "Proudly Red", "Proudly Orange", "Proudly Yellow", "Proudly Green", "Proudly Blue", and "Proudly Violet". They sell for RM365 each.

There are several variants of the Pride Flags, with the traditional one featuring six colours — originally symbolising sexuality, life, healing, the sun, nature, art, harmony, and spirit.

Swatch's 'Stripe Fierce' face dial. — Screengrab from Swatch Malaysia's website
Swatch's 'Stripe Fierce' face dial. — Screengrab from Swatch Malaysia's website

Swatch's 'Stripe Fierce' face dial. — Screengrab from Swatch Malaysia's website

Another design of the seized watches is the "Stripe Fierce" model under Swatch's Pride collection, which has the six-stripe rainbow-coloured Pride Flag on its dial, and features the word "LGBTQIA2S" along with rainbow loops, and has a retail price of RM390.

"LGBTQIA2S" stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, asexual, and two-spirit, which serves to symbolise the inclusion of minority sexual and gender identities.

The Swatch Alla Parata model. — Screengrab from Swatch Malaysia's website
The Swatch Alla Parata model. — Screengrab from Swatch Malaysia's website

The Swatch Alla Parata model. — Screengrab from Swatch Malaysia's website

Another seized design is the "Alla Parata" model under Swatch's "Celebrating life since '83" collection, which the Swatch website described as a "striking watch to wear with Pride". This watch featured colours from the six-stripe Pride flag and two rainbow loops, and has a retail price of RM455.

Also seized was the watch model "Peace Hand Love" under Swatch's Pride collection, which featured a multi-colour print matching the six colours of the Pride Flag and with a hand showing the "peace" sign. This has a retail price of RM570.

The total tally based on designs shown on Swatch's website: One design features the word "LGBTQIA2S" and rainbow loops, seven designs feature rainbow loops without LGBT text, one design features the six-striped colours but does not have rainbow loops.

Swatch's 'Peace and Love' face dial. — Screengrab from Swatch Malaysia's website
Swatch's 'Peace and Love' face dial. — Screengrab from Swatch Malaysia's website

Swatch's 'Peace and Love' face dial. — Screengrab from Swatch Malaysia's website

2. Where were the watches seized from?

The Home Ministry seized 172 Swatch watches from outlets in 11 shopping malls over three days, based on information made available to Malay Mail.

On May 13, two locations — Pavilion Kuala Lumpur and the 1 Utama Shopping Centre in Petaling Jaya — had 20 and 25 watches confiscated respectively, while 19 watches each were seized from Sunway Pyramid and Setia City Mall which are both in Selangor.

On May 14, three locations in Kuala Lumpur had Swatch watches seized (Mid Valley with 22, Sunway Putra with 15, Sogo KL with 14) and 12 seized in Southkey in Johor Baru.

On May 15, six watches were seized from Queensbay in Penang, Suria Sabah in Kota Kinabalu (eight), and Fahrenheit 88 in Kuala Lumpur (12).

As for five locations which were given a warning on May 14 and May 15, these are KTCC Mall in Kuala Terengganu, KB Mall in Kelantan, Aman Central in Kedah, City Square in Johor Baru, and Viva City in Kuching.

3. What is the total value of watches seized?

It is currently unknown what the total value of the 172 seized watches is. This would depend on the number of units seized per design.

But if a conservative calculation was to be made using just the cheapest retail price of RM365 among the seized watches, the total seized value of the 172 watches would exceed RM62,000 at the very least.

A box of Swatch watches seized from One Utama mall. — Picture courtesy of Swatch
A box of Swatch watches seized from One Utama mall. — Picture courtesy of Swatch

A box of Swatch watches seized from One Utama mall. — Picture courtesy of Swatch

4. Why exactly were the watches seized?

Based on a seizure form sighted by Malay Mail regarding one of the outlets, 22 units of Swatch watches "with LGBT elements" were stated as seized by the Home Ministry's enforcement and control division, with the reason stated as allegedly contravening the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA).

PPPA states that it is "An Act to regulate the use of printing presses and the printing, importation, production, reproduction, publishing and distribution of publications and for matters connected therewith."

When contacted by Malay Mail, Swatch declined to comment on the case of the watch seizures, but said its "legal department is taking care of it".

5. Who does Swatch make its watches for?

Here's the full statement by Swatch Group CEO Nick Hayek after the raids on the company's outlets in Malaysia:

"Swatch is since the creation of the brand known and proud of being the canvas on the wrist for all people worldwide and many artists working with us. Creativity and colours paired with Swiss-made quality are what we are loved for.

"We strongly contest that our collection of watches using rainbow colours and having a message of peace and love could be harmful to whomever. On the contrary, Swatch gives always a positive message of joy of life.

"This has nothing political. We wonder how the Enforcement and Control Division of the Home Ministry will confiscate the many beautiful natural rainbows that are showing up thousand times a year in the sky of Malaysia."

Home Ministry officers with seized Swatch watches at One Utama mall. — Picture courtesy of Swatch
Home Ministry officers with seized Swatch watches at One Utama mall. — Picture courtesy of Swatch

Home Ministry officers with seized Swatch watches at One Utama mall. — Picture courtesy of Swatch

6. When was the period during which the raid happened?

This is not the first time that themes seen as linked to the LGBT movement had attracted the Malaysian government's attention.

On May 22, the Minister in the Prime Minister's Department in charge of religious affairs Datuk Mohd Na'im Mokhtar in a written parliamentary reply said the Malaysian government had carried out seven actions linked to enforcement during the 2021 to April 2023 period, including the police's investigation of participants of the Women's March who were allegedly promoting LGBT under the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 (PAA) and the Minor Offences Act 1955.

Na'im had also listed the government's actions as including the resulting cancellation by distributor Walt Disney Malaysia of cinema screenings of the animated movie Lightyear last year over the company's disagreement with the Home Ministry's Film Censorship Board's conditions; the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission's (MCMC) seeking explanation from Google over the removal last year of the Hijrah Diri app — developed by the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia and Yayasan Ihtimam Malaysia — from the Google Play Store; and the prosecution of a cosmetics entrepreneur with sexual communication with a male teenager using Instagram.

In the same Dewan Rakyat reply, Na'im said the Malaysian government was firm in not recognising the LGBT community, stating that LGBT actions go against the country's religion, morals and culture and that Malaysia's civil and Shariah laws outlaw homosexual acts.

Na'im said the LGBT community's rights to practise their lifestyle is subject to local laws which disallow such actions, but said the government will not discriminate against the LGBT community from enjoying their constitutional rights such as the right to education, right to work and right to practise their religion.

News of the seizure also emerged during the same week when two MPs from Islamist party PAS told the Dewan Rakyat that LGBT persons should be considered as suffering from mental disorders, and just after another PAS leader urged for a Coldplay concert in November to be cancelled due to its support for the LGBT.