Two women working for an HIV/AIDS advocacy group in Nepal have been freed from a Maoist camp after a month in captivity.

Dukhani Choudhary, 16, and Sarita Choudhury, 20, were taken by the rebels on March 2nd.

During their detention they were interrogated about their relationship and pressured into returning to a heterosexual lifestyle.

The Times of India reported that the Maoists told the women they would have to “undergo a blood test to check if they were lesbians.”

Nepal’s only LGBT advocacy group the Blue Diamond Society had worked to free them and announced their release to the world.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) earlier this week announced BDS as the recipient of its internationally recognized Felipa de Souza Award.

The 2007 Felipa Award will be presented to Sunil Pant, the founder and director of BDS, at two awards ceremonies to be held on May 1st in New York and on May 3rd in San Francisco.

Since 1994, the Felipa Award has acknowledged the courage and impact of grassroots groups and leaders dedicated to improving the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and other individuals stigmatised and abused because of their sexuality or HIV status.

The Blue Diamond Society was founded in 2001 in an effort to address the needs of sexual minorities.

In June 2004, in response to increasing incidents of police brutality against LGBT people, BDS organised the first public demonstration to support human rights for sexual minorities.

Two months later, in another incident, Nepalese police arrested and jailed 39 LGBT activists.

Immediately afterward, BDS spearheaded a national and international campaign to secure the release of the detainees.

At the start of 2007 gangs of Maoist militants launched a campaign in Nepal against the country’s gay and lesbian population.

Gays and lesbians in the Himalayan kingdom previously suffered persistent persecution from security forces during the absolutist rule of King Gyanendra.

LGBT people joined the Maoists and others to protest in a democracy movement against the king last year, demanding a freely elected, secular government.

When King Gyanendra finally relinquished sovereign power to the civilian government, it was hoped that gay and lesbian Nepalese would be granted human rights and legal protection.

The Maoist insurgents, who fought a ten-year guerrilla war against monarchist forces at a cost of over 12,000 lives, finally signed a peace agreement with the new democratic government in November last year.

No longer regarded as terrorists, the Maoists have turned their attention to ridding the country of “social pollutants,” such as pornography, infidelity, drunkenness and homosexuality, which they claim are products of capitalism.