On 13-14 May Malaysian authorities raided 11 nationwide outlets belonging to the Swiss watchmaker Swatch and seized over 100 colourful watches from their “Pride Collection”, created to celebrate the Pride movement and promote LGBTQ+ rights ahead of Pride Month in June.
The home minister also allegedly issued warning notices to five other stores.
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has specified that the raids were due to the product line’s association with the LGBTQ+ community, reaffirming the arbitrary and discriminatory nature of the action. The raids and watch seizures were carried out under the Printing Presses and Publication Act 1984 (PPPA).
“The Swatch raids are a clear warning to intimidate LGBTQ+ persons into hiding, from a government that is threatened by the notion of pride in diverse genders, identities, and sexual orientations,” said Nalini Elumalai, Article 19’s senior Malaysia programme officer.
“The raids have once again contributed to the existing hostility and discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, who already feel unsafe and at risk of reprisal for expressing themselves. Equality must be for all regardless of gender or sexual orientation as guaranteed under Article 8 of the Malaysian Federal Constitution.”
Article 19 has repeatedly warned that the PPPA is incompatible with international human rights law and standards relating to the freedom of expression and non-discrimination. The law gives sweeping discretion to the home affairs minister to ban publications, opening the door to arbitrary and discriminatory applications.
Vaguely worded provisions within the PPPA fail to comply with requirements under international human rights law that restrictions on the freedom of expression must be precise enough to allow individuals to regulate their behaviour and be narrowly tailored to address a legitimate objective, based on necessity and proportionality.
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Separately on 23 May, Pasir Salak MP Jamaluddin Yahya suggested during a conversation relating to the amendments of the Mental Health Act before Parliament that people identifying as LGBTQ should be considered a mental health issue.
“Identifying as LGBTQ+ cannot be considered a mental health issue. Generalising and assuming this shows great ignorance and discrimination among the legislators towards LGBTQ+ communities. They should work together with civil society organisations to educate themselves,” Nalini said.
“The ‘unity government’ preaches its non-discrimination qualities. The government must acknowledge and comply with the principles they claim to uphold. Accountability begins with recognising the rights of the LGBTQ+ community and understanding that being LGBTQ+ is not a mental illness and should not be treated in a discriminatory manner.” – Article 19