International: Malaysia, Uganda, U.S., Hungary

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Owners of ‘LGBT’ watches made by the Swiss watchmaker Swatch could now be jailed for three years in Malaysia after a ban instituted on Aug. 10. Sellers of watches with rainbow colors face the same punishment, as the Muslim-majority country’s Interior Ministry says such blatantly LGBTQ+ symbols could “harm morals.”

Homosexuality is outlawed in Malaysia and LGBTQ+ people face rampant discrimination and are frequent targets of hate crimes.

In May, Malaysia’s law enforcement unit at the interior ministry raided Swatch stores at 11 shopping malls, including in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, for watches bearing what it called “LGBT elements.”

On Aug. 10, Malaysia made a formal statement banning the watches. Anyone who “prints, imports, produces … or has in his possession” such items faces a jail term of up to three years, the ministry said. Anyone wearing or distributing the watches could also be fined 20,000 Malaysian ringgit ($4,320), according to the ban.

“The Malaysian government is committed to preventing the spread of elements that are harmful or may be harmful to morals,” the ministry said in a statement.

It said the watches “may harm … the interests of the nation by promoting, supporting and normalizing the LGBTQ+ movement that is not accepted by the general public.”

Swatch filed a lawsuit against the Malaysian government in June after 172 watches worth $14,000 were seized in raids because they had the “LGBTQ” acronym and six colors instead of the seven in a rainbow, signifying the Pride flag. 

In their lawsuit, Swatch said that the watches “did not promote any sexual activity but merely a fun and joyous expression of peace and love.”


On May 29, Uganda passed the most stringent anti-gay law in the world. Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which calls for life imprisonment for anyone convicted of homosexuality and the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The passage of the law brought immediate outrage from many world leaders and human rights advocates, among them President Joe Biden.

“The enactment of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act is a tragic violation of universal human rights — one that is not worthy of the Ugandan people, and one that jeopardizes the prospects of critical economic growth for the entire country,” Biden said in a statement.

A World Bank team traveled to Uganda immediately after the law was enacted in May after which it was decided that the bank’s environmental and social standards would likely not be met without specific actions. On Aug. 8, the World Bank said it would halt all new lending to the Ugandan government stating that Uganda’s anti-LGBTQ+ law contradicts the bank’s values.

Uganda dismissed the action as “unjust and hypocritical.”

In a statement, the World Bank said, “No new public financing to Uganda will be presented to our Board of Executive Directors until the efficacy of the additional measures has been tested.”

The bank added that such measures were now under discussion with Ugandan authorities. The bank said, “Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act fundamentally contradicts the World Bank Group’s values. We believe our vision to eradicate poverty on a livable planet can only succeed if it includes everyone irrespective of race, gender, or sexuality.” 

The bank also said, “We remain committed to helping all Ugandans — without exception — escape poverty, access vital services, and improve their lives.”

World Bank President Ajay Banga took office in June after the Ugandan law was enacted. Banga has been pressured by several nations and myriad advocacy groups to respond to the Ugandan law. On June 15, 170 such groups urged Banga to take “specific, concrete and timely actions” in response to the Uganda anti-LGBTQ+ law, including suspending future lending.

Uganda’s state minister for foreign affairs, Okello Oryem, accused the bank of hypocrisy, saying they were lending to countries in the Middle East and Asia that have similar or harsher laws on homosexuality and cited the U.S. as having many antigay laws. 

“There are many Middle East countries who do not tolerate homosexuals, they actually hang and execute homosexuals In the United States of America, many states have passed laws that are either against or restrict activities of homosexuality … so why pick on Uganda?” he said.

“The World Bank has been put under pressure by the usual imperialists,” Oryem added.


The LGBTQ+ community remains criminalized in many parts of the world. Now some human rights advocates are adding the U.S. to that list, due to the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing discrimination against LGBTQ+ people and a declaration by Human Rights Campaign of a State of Emergency for LGBTQ+ people in the U.S.

Of 193 countries in the United Nations, 64 still criminalize same-sex acts, according to a database run by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA). “Same-sex acts” is the phrase used by this and other human rights monitoring organizations.

The Spartacus Blog’s Gay Travel Index advises LGBTQ+ vacationers on which countries they can expect to be most safe in, where their rights are most protected, and where to avoid. Among the criteria assessed: anti-discrimination legislation, marriage/civil partnerships, whether adoption is allowed, transgender rights, infrastructure, views on conversion therapy, religious influence, local hostility and laws surrounding prosecution.

The U.S. is no longer listed as a top LGBTQ+-friendly travel destination in 2023. The U.S. came in at 35 out of 199 global destinations. As PGN previously reported, U.S. religious groups have engaged in propagandizing throughout Africa and Asia.

USA Today reports, “Human rights campaigners have long complained that U.S. Christian evangelical organizations have pushed policies, laws and public opinion that discriminate against sexual and gender minorities and reproductive rights for people across the world.” 

They added: “A 2020 investigation by openDemocracy, for example, found that U.S.-based Family Watch International had, for a decade, been coaching high-ranking African politicians and religious and civic leaders to oppose sexuality education across the continent. Family Watch International also had a hand in shaping Uganda’s 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Bill, according to openDemocracy.”


The Hungarian government has proposed a bill that excludes transgender women from a women-only pension program. The bill is expected to go to parliament in September.

The proposed bill follows a court ruling on behalf of a transgender woman. That ruling forced the local authorities to recognize the plaintiff as a woman, making her eligible for the women-only pension benefit. The benefit is available to women who have worked 40 years but not yet reached retirement age.  

The verdict created outrage within Hungary’s ruling party, Fidesz, which publicly criticized the judge. Human Rights Watch reported that “pro-government media regurgitated trans- and homophobic messaging. As it has done with previous unfavorable rulings, the government is seeking to amend legislation to sidestep the courts.” 

The proposed bill discriminates against trans women who have legally changed their gender designation. The bill also stands in violation of existing case law by the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) and the European Court of Human Rights, and human rights advocates say the bill “flouts common European values.” 

Human Rights Watch says the bill “is another case for why EU member states should sanction Hungary under article 7 of the Treaty on European Union for persistent disregard for the norms and principles upon which the EU is founded.”

The anti-trans bill follows a number of recent anti-LGBTQ+ incidents in Hungary. On the same day the government proposed the bill, the Consumer Protection Authority fined Lira — one of the country’s largest bookstores — 12 million Forints (about $36,000) for failing to wrap the British LGBTQ+ graphic novel “Heartstopper” in plastic foil. The government body said Lira had breached the 2021 anti-LGBTQ+ law prohibiting display of LGBTQ+ content to children — a law that the European Commission referred to the CJEU in July 2022 because it violates the fundamental rights of LGBTQ+ people. Human Rights Watch said, “Instead of discriminating and fueling intolerance, parliament should redouble efforts to protect the basic human rights of everyone in Hungary, including people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. If they instead adopt this bill, the European Commission should immediately launch infringement proceedings.”

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