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Malaysia warns owners of LGBTQ-themed Swatch watches could face jail time

Malaysia's government said Thursday that anyone buying or selling LGBTQ-themed Swatch watches could face prison terms of up to three years, as authorities pledged to stop the sale of Swatch products with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer elements that "may harm the morality" of the country.

Rainbow-colored watches made by the Swiss watchmaker have been prohibited in the Muslim-majority country for "promoting, supporting, and normalizing the LGBTQ+ movement that is not accepted by the general public in Malaysia," according to a post on the Malaysian Interior Ministry's official Facebook page. 

Malaysia Swatch
A Malay couple walking pass Swatch outlet at a shopping mall in Putrajaya, Malaysia Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023. Vincent Thian / AP

Homosexuality is illegal in the southeast Asian nation and homosexual acts are punishable by "up to 20 years in prison and/or whipping" there, according to the U.S. State Department. 

Members of the LGBTQ community in Malaysia regularly face severe discrimination, including criminal penalties, conversion practices that seek to change people's sexual orientation or gender identity, and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from government officials.

The formal ban is just the latest crackdown by the government on rainbow-colored Swatch products. In May, Malaysia's law enforcement unit at the interior ministry raided Swatch stores at 11 shopping malls across the country, including in the capital Kuala Lumpur, confiscating timepieces bearing what it called "LGBT elements," the French news agency AFP reported. 

Swatch filed a lawsuit in response to those raids in July, saying the government had damaged the company's reputation.

In a statement emailed to CBS News on Thursday, the Swatch Group declined to comment on the latest ban on some of its products in Malaysia and said the company was "still waiting for the hearing" regarding its existing lawsuit, which was scheduled for later in August. 

The latest step by the government came ahead of elections in six Malaysian states on Saturday that will test national support for Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim's unity coalition government. The coalition came to power in November 2022.

Malaysia Election Explainer
Supporters of Harapan-BN coalition attend an election campaign ahead of the state election in Sepang, Selangor state in Malaysia Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023.  Vincent Thian / AP

They face an opposition consisting of Malay-Muslim political parties. The prime minister has faced criticism from the opposition for not doing enough to protect Malaysia's Islamic values. 

The country's anti-LGBTQ stance faced global scrutiny last month when the lead singer of rock band The 1975, Matty Healy, publicly criticized Malaysia's laws on stage and kissed a male bandmate during their performance at a music festival in the country. 

Malaysian authorities canceled the rest of the festival in response to the performance.

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