Nepalese police raided saunas and trawled the streets of Kathmandu, arresting more than 39 gay men in one night last week.

Many were members of the Blue Diamond Society, an organisation set up to advance the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender Nepalese and promote HIV/AIDS awareness.

According to Blue Diamond director Sunil Pant, the men were held without food and some were beaten. Pant told the Indo-Asian News Service the arrests were part of a moral backlash against the country’s emerging gay community.

Though Nepal has a significant homosexual population, the community has been in the closet for a long time due to social stigma and oppression, Pant said.

Feminine gay men in Nepal are called metis, or men with female characteristics. Many metis have been beaten and raped in police custody, Blue Diamond has claimed. Pant said the recent arrests could have been a payback for a recent complaint lodged against the police.

Blue Diamond could be closed in the coming months. A citizen has presented a petition against the organisation’s activities and the Supreme Court has ordered the government to give reasons why the group should not be closed.

The United Nations and Human Rights Watch have both called on the Nepalese government to release the detainees.

In a statement released Monday the United Nations HIV/AIDS focus group UNAIDS expressed deep concern about the arrests.

UNAIDS has conveyed its concern over these events to the government of Nepal and has called on the government to ensure that [non-government organisations] in the country continue to provide the much needed services for HIV prevention, care and support in an atmosphere free from fear and intimidation.

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