Gay rights campaigners in the Himalayan nation of Nepal have spoken of their delight at a ruling by the Supreme Court legitimising gay rights.

The court, hearing a petition from four activists, has ordered that the government not just overturn discriminatory laws but pass new ones protecting the rights of gay people.

The harassment that lesbian, gay and trans people face in the country often comes at the hands of Maoist rebels.

Sunit Pant of gay rights group Blue Diamond Society praised today’s Supreme Court ruling.

“It was an extremely positive decision and a pleasant surprise for us.

“It would set a precedent for other conservative countries like Nepal,” he said, according to AP.

It is still unclear what action the government will take in the light of the ruling. The former rebel Maoists are now part of the Nepalese government.

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.

In recent known examples of discriminatory attacks, Maoist soldiers detained a woman and a teenage girl accused of having a sexual relationship and tried to force them to become Maoist soldiers.

In July five Nepalese transgender youths, known as meti, were brutally beaten, sexually abused and insulted by police in Kathmandu. Their crime is said to be carrying condoms for their own use.

They were approached by police, questioned and strip-searched – officers ‘checked’ for signs of sexual intercourse by examining their genitals.

In January 2007, at a programme organised by the Blue Diamond Society, Hisila Yami, a Maoist member of parliament and the Minister for Infrastructure in Nepal’s interim government, stated that the party had recently adopted a policy “not to encourage homosexual behaviour but not punish homosexuals either.”

However, other statements by Maoist leaders have painted a different picture.

In December 2006, Maoist senior leader and Minister of Local Development Dev Gurung said publicly that: “Under Soviet rule and when China was still very much a communist state, there were no homosexuals in the Soviet Union or China.

“Homosexuality is a production of capitalism. Under socialism this kind of problem doesn’t exist.”