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Luk Fook, Hong Kong retail

The photograph above is from a Longines advertising campaign, and features arguably India’s most famous Bollywood star, Aishwarya Rai.

Some might consider it elegant, others “hi-so” in certain parts of Southeast Asia. But in Malaysia, religious zealots have fined a non-Muslim watch retailer for displaying a poster in-store featuring this same Aishwarya Rai photo.

According to Malaysian mainstream media, someone from the Kota Baru Municipal Council considered the photograph too “sexy” – an “offence” the beleaguered retailer has supposedly committed more than 10 times since the 1990s.   

Swee Cheong Watch & Pen Co owner Lee Kum Chuan’s latest bureaucratic punishment came to light when he went to obtain a business licence from the council to open a new store in Aeon Mall, his third outlet in Kota Baru.

“When I went to MPKB to apply for a business permit for the new shop, I was told to settle the fines for the offence committed in KB Mall,” he told The Star in Kuala Lumpur.

“I was hit with a total RM2000 (S$668) in fines, but the amount was reduced to RM400. I had to pay the sum before I could get the new permit,” he said.  

In a nation where family members of the Prime Minister are allegedly siphoning off hundreds of millions of dollars of state funds to spend on luxury goods, movie productions, condominiums and aircraft, prompting investigations in a dozen or so countries, law-enforcement officials consider it damaging to community standards for a fully dressed Bollywood actress to promote watches. At least that’s how it seems.

Shop ‘raid’

MPKB enforcement officers “raided” the new Swee Cheong Watch & Pen shop in Aeon Mall on Monday, ordering the “offensive” posters be removed from display.

“The posters were supplied by our manufacturers,” Lee told The Star.

The issue has sparked wider concerns about the application of a dual justice system in Malaysia in which hudud laws – and their applicable punishments – apply to Muslims, and more conventional laws apply to Chinese, Indian and other ethnicities. (In Malaysia, ethnic Malaysians are born Muslim and face physical punishment if they try to renounce their religion). Hudud is defined by Wikipedia as “an Islamic concept: punishments which under Islamic law (Shariah) are mandated and fixed by God”.

Kelantan Malaysian Chinese Association secretary Datuk Lua Choon Hann says the harassment of the watch retailer follows the council taking action against hairdressers for attending clients of a different gender.

“The government has proved yet again that its repeated claims that the hudud enactment will have no bearing on non-Muslims are nothing but mere fallacy,” he said in a statement this week.

“Based on the summonses issued by local councils (in Kelantan), MCA wants to raise awareness of the motives to remove clauses in the Federal Constitution that protect the rights of non-Muslims and Muslims against punitive criminal actions based on religious precepts,” he said.

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