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Swiss watchmaker Swatch sues Malaysia for seizure of Pride watches

MALAYSIA — The Malaysian apex court will hear Swatch Malaysia’s bid to commence judicial review against the government’s seizure of 172 watches, including the Pride Collection series, on 23 August.

Justice Amarjeet Singh fixed the hearing date today after lawyer Nizam Bashir informed the court the Swiss watchmaker needed to amend its cause papers, according to news portal FMT.

Senior federal counsel Irmawatie Daud, appearing for the government, said they have no objections to the amendments.

Home ministry officials “illegally” seized 172 watches from 16 outlets, Swatch said in court documents seen by Reuters.

The watchmaker was informed through the ministry’s notice of seizure the watches have elements of promoting the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community.

Swatch claims the seizure is illegal as the watches are not defined as a form of “publication” under the Printing Presses and Publication Act (PPPA).

It said that under PPPA, the term “publication” is used only for documents, newspapers, books or any materials in printed form.

“The said watches have yet to be defined as a prohibited publication, thus the officers have no powers to enter the applicant’s (Swatch Malaysia) outlets to seize them,” it says in its application for leave.

Swatch Malaysia also says some of the timepiece models among the 172 seized watches have been sold in Malaysia for more than a year. It says it had not been notified of any complaints regarding the watches by the ministry either.

The company also says its lawyers had written to the ministry last month demanding that the government return the watches, but the ministry did not do so.

“The applicant also contends that the government’s action was done for improper political motives, given the state elections will be held soon. The minister was seeking to show his ‘Islamic’ credentials for political purposes,” it claims.

It was reported that officers from the ministry seized the Pride Collection watches, featuring rainbow colours, after social media users linked the collection to British rock band Coldplay’s support for the LGBTQ community.

“Without a doubt, the seized watches did not and are not in any way capable of causing any disruption to public order or morality or any violations of the law,” Swatch said in a statement.

The seizure notices served to Swatch described the watches as having elements of or promoting LGBTQ rights and potentially breaching Malaysian law, the company said.

Most of the seized watches, which have a combined retail value of 64,795 ringgit (US$14,250.05), did not contain the ‘LGBTQ’ lettering, Swatch said.

Swatch is seeking damages and the return of the watches, saying its ability to do business in the country has been “greatly jeopardised” by the seizures.

Swatch Malaysia had filed a judicial review application at the High Court to challenge the government’s seizure of its Pride collection watches.

In the court document, The Swatch Group (M) Sdn Bhd, as the applicant, filed the application via Messrs Nizam Bashir & Associates on June 24.

Malaysia has jailed or caned people for homosexuality. Last year, 18 people were detained at a Halloween party attended by members of the LGBT community.

The seizure and lawsuit come ahead of crucial regional polls that will pit Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s progressive coalition against a mostly conservative ethnic-Malay, Muslim alliance.

In the run-up to the elections, Anwar has again been accused by critics of not doing enough to protect the rights of Muslims in multi-racial, multi-faith Malaysia.

Anwar was imprisoned for sodomy and corruption for nearly a decade, charges he denied and said were politically motivated.

The premier has repeatedly said this month that his government will uphold the principles of Islam, state media reported. He has also said LGBT rights will not be recognised by his administration.

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