Police in Nepal denied on Tuesday they had been targeting men with long hair as part of a drive against "hooliganism" in the capital that has seen more than 1,000 people arrested in the last week.
"We based our arrests on complaints from local people about youth loitering and making noise," Kathmandu police spokesman Chakra Bahadur Singh told AFP. "It turned out that most of them had long hair."
He admitted that police had given haircuts to some of the detainees but only those "whose parents requested it".
The drive, which was launched early last week with the arrest of 711 people across Kathmandu on its first day, has ignited outrage on social media and in local newspapers.
Singh said a total of 1,200 people had been detained under the draconian Public Offence Act since the campaign began, with three of them charged with possession of drugs.
The rest were released without charge a day after their arrests, he said.
"My hair is two feet long. I sport earrings. Am I a criminal in the eyes of Nepal police?" tweeted Nepali journalist Keshav Koirala.
Rights groups say the law, which permits detention without charge for up to 25 days, is used to arrest protesters and target minorities such as transgender people and Tibetans.
"The Act is outdated," said Hari Phuyal, a prominent lawyer in Kathmandu. "It was originally created by autocratic leaders to suppress political opponents, and now it is used whenever the police need an excuse for arbitrary arrests, including those they accuse of being hooligans," he said.
Long hair is fashionable among young people in Kathmandu and the country's most popular film actor, Rajesh Hamal, is known for his shoulder-length locks.