Human Rights Watch denounced India on Jan. 11 over the arrests of four gay men in the city of Lucknow.
The men were nabbed at a picnic in a public location Jan. 4 and charged with operating a 'gay racket' on the Internet and engaging in 'unnatural' sex.
Police 'accused them of belonging to an 'international gay club' centered around [ a ] website,' the organization said. 'Reports received by Human Rights Watch indicate that undercover police, posing as gay on the website, entrapped one man, then forced him to call others and arrange a meeting where they were arrested.'
In a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Human Rights Watch said India's colonial-era sodomy law threatens human rights and encourages the spread of HIV.
'Lucknow police have a shameful record of harassing gay men as well as non-governmental organizations that work with them,' the organization said, 'They are able to do so because India's government clings to the criminalization of homosexual conduct, which only prevents people from coming forward for HIV/AIDS testing, information, and services.'
In July 2001, Lucknow police raided the local offices of two HIV organizations, Naz Foundation International and Bharosa Trust. Four staff members, who were accused of running a gay sex racket and distributing 'obscene' HIV-education materials, were jailed for 47 days.
Charges of sodomy, criminal conspiracy, aiding and abetting a crime, and sale of obscene matter were later dropped after international human-rights groups complained.
In New Delhi, meanwhile, some 25 gay activists staged a protest Jan. 12 demanding that the new arrestees be released. The demonstration took place outside a building owned by Uttar Pradesh state, where Lucknow is located.
Section 377 of India's penal code, titled 'Of Unnatural Offences,' punishes 'carnal intercourse against the order of nature' with up to 10 years in prison. A legal case against the law, brought by the Naz Foundation, is pending before the Delhi High Court.