(New York) - A string of police attacks on transgender people reflects the vulnerability of Nepalis in a climate of violence where civil liberties remain restricted, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Nepalese authorities.

“Police in Kathmandu are violently attacking and even sexually abusing transgender people to clear the streets of people they deem immoral,” said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “Nepali human rights groups are calling this crackdown ‘sexual cleansing.’ This amoral campaign has to stop.”

In the latest reported incident, on January 3 at about 10 p.m., three metis were walking in the Thamel district of Kathmandu. A local slang term for transgender people, a meti is a man by birth who identifies as a woman. Four uniformed police from Durbar Marg police station reportedly saw them and shouted, “Metis! Kill them!”

One meti was beaten with a baton on her back; one policeman pulled his gun and pointed it at her, threatening that “These hijras pollute the society and must be cleaned out” (“Hijra” is a common term for a transgender person). The two other metis were also beaten severely. All three reportedly have bruises on various parts of their bodies.

The Blue Diamond Society, a Nepalese nongovernmental organization defending sexual rights and sexual health, has documented numerous such incidents. On December 31 at about 11 p.m., also in Kathmandu’s Thamel district, a meti was detained by police from Shore Khutte police station. One policeman beat her with a bamboo baton, calling her derogatory names. She escaped, but her right hand is reportedly swollen and badly bruised.

On December 28 at about 1:30 a.m., a meti called Sahiba was arrested in the Thamel district. She was taken to the Shore Khutte police station. There police verbally abused her and commanded her to strip. When she refused, they stripped her forcibly of her clothes and checked her genitals while mocking her. They threatened to cut her hair off as punishment for wearing women’s clothes. She was released the next day.

In yet another incident, early on the morning of December 7, police from the Shore Khutte station raided a hotel in the Thamel district of Kathmandu. The raid was reportedly in retaliation against the hotel for refusing to provide a room free of charge for four policemen to have sexual relations with two metis. During the raid, 11 metis were arrested. Eight were held without charge for five days, then released; the other three were held for an addition day.

“The police are using brutal harassment and detention without charge to clear transgender people off the streets,” Long said. “These attacks reflect a law enforcement system that is unchecked and operating outside the law.”

The Blue Diamond Society’s very existence has been under attack since 2004 by a lawsuit before Nepal’s Supreme Court which would ban it on the grounds that it is “advocating homosexual rights.” Such an action would violate basic freedoms of expression and association. Hearings before the Supreme Court have been deferred six times, most recently on November 11, 2005.

Civil society organizations in Nepal have faced mounting harassment and restrictions since last February when King Gyanendra dismissed the government, assumed direct power and suspended many civil liberties in the country.