By Alyaa Alhadjri | Malaysiakini

Lawyer New Sin Yew today said the Home Ministry had acted illegally to raid eleven Swatch stores and seize 172 items from the Swiss brand’s Pride Collection — which comprises watches in various shades of the rainbow — also adopted as a symbol of the LGBT community.

This follows the Home Ministry’s announcement that a ban on any Swatch watches under the collection, its boxes, accessories, or other related items — under section 7 of the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) 1984 — was only gazetted today, three months after the raids were conducted.

“The raids on May 13 and May 14 are illegal because there was no order under section 7 of the PPPA that was gazetted at the time of the raid.

“The subsequent making and publishing of the order in the gazette after the raid does not cure the illegality of the raid because the order only takes effect from the date it was gazetted,” New told Malaysiakini.

“Article 7 of the Federal Constitution is relevant here, it provides that ‘no person shall be punished for an act or omission which was not punishable by law when it was done or made…’.

“On all accounts, the government’s move against Swatch is blatantly illegal. It is simply indefensible,” stressed New.

New Sin Yew

He noted that it is a worrying trend for a government to act with such “impunity” against any party and that the move deserves condemnation.

Section 7 of the PPPA gives the home minister wide-ranging authority to ban items.

Section 7(1) states that a ban via a gazette can be issued “if the minister is satisfied that any publication contains any article, caricature, photograph, report, notes, writing, sound, music, statement or any other thing which is in any manner prejudicial to or likely to be prejudicial to public order, morality, security, or which is likely to alarm public opinion, or which is or is likely to be contrary to any law or is otherwise prejudicial to or is likely to be prejudicial to public interest or national interest”.

Section 8(2) of the same act carries punishments for selling, distributing, or owning banned material, which included up to three years in jail, a fine of up to RM20,000, or both.

Govt must prove watches a ‘threat’

Meanwhile, LGBT rights group Justice for Sisters co-founder Thilaga Sulathireh said the grounds for the raid and seizure are “clearly discriminatory”.

“The notion that LGBT people and materials are seen as a threat to public interest, morality, and national security is extremely problematic.

“I think the state has a duty to explain and show evidence on how the sale of the watches is a threat to public interest, morality, and national security,” Thilaga said when contacted today.

She said society’s “panic” over the perceived normalisation of LGBT, including through the distribution of materials said to promote the community’s adopted symbol, has resulted in further isolation, self-censorship, increased stigma, and discrimination against LGBT people with impunity.

Swatch Group has since taken the Malaysian government to court to challenge the nationwide raid and seizure.