PETALING JAYA: The government has been accused of harbouring deep-rooted discrimination against the LBGTQ community following the home ministry’s announcement that those caught wearing Pride-themed timepieces from Swatch could be jailed.
Dhia Rezki Rohaizad, an activist for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual and queer (LBGTQ) community, said the government’s decision to criminalise ownership is not just an overreaction but a clear sign of broader state-sanctioned discrimination against the community, too.
On Thursday, the ministry said it had banned all Swatch products that contain any LGBTQ elements, whether on watches, boxes or wrappers. Anyone caught owning the banned watches could face up to three years in jail or a fine as high as RM20,000, or both, on conviction.
“The government’s stance on this issue is not just about watches, it’s about curbing freedom of expression and suppressing the LGBTQ community,” he told FMT, adding that the heightened policing came at a time where support for queer issues was continuing to grow.
Human rights and law reform group Lawyers for Liberty condemned the government’s ban, with director Zaid Malek calling the order unlawful and unconstitutional, which could make it subject to legal challenges,
“The existence of the right to free speech is in our constitution to ensure that all have equal opportunity to express their thoughts and ideas even if it is not within the larger consensus,” he said.
William Ng, chairman of the Small and Medium Enterprises Association, said the government now runs the risk of damaging the economy through such decisions.
“Our pull as an investment and tourist destination is dependent on several factors, including being perceived as a tolerant nation that celebrates diversity,” he told FMT.
Former Bar Council president Salim Bashir said Section 7 of the Printing Presses and Publication Act allowed for considerable ministerial power to ban items deemed harmful to public order, but emphasised their discretion needs to consider input from stakeholders and civil societies.