Qatar to charge those behind invasive searches of women

DOHA • Qatar said yesterday that those responsible for invasive gynaecological searches of passengers at Doha airport had been referred for prosecution over the violations following widespread outrage.

Women on 10 Qatar Airways flights out of Doha were subject to the examinations as the authorities searched for the mother of a newborn baby found abandoned in an airport bathroom on Oct 2.

"Those responsible for these violations and illegal actions have been referred to the Public Prosecution Office," the government said in a statement.

"The Prime Minister and Minister of Interior expressed the government of the state of Qatar's sincerest apology for what some female travellers went through as a result of the measures."

The incident has caused diplomatic tensions with three friendly nations - Australia, Britain and New Zealand - which intensified when the authorities initially declined to apologise, leading to an online backlash against the airline, one of the wealthy Gulf nation's prestige projects.

New Zealand was the latest to raise concerns, saying late on Thursday that one of its citizens was among the women subjected to the invasive examinations.

"We were extremely concerned to learn... that a New Zealand national was involved in the appalling incident involving female passengers on several Qatar Airways flights," its foreign ministry said in a statement.

It labelled the action "completely unacceptable".

The incident came to light only this week after affected Australian passengers spoke out.

Australia has since said 13 of its citizens had to endure the "appalling" examinations; Britain said it is providing support for two women; and Agence France-Presse has learnt that a French woman was also affected.

Qatar said the baby girl - who survived - was wrapped in plastic and left to die in a bathroom rubbish bin, prompting what sources said was a lockdown of Hamad International Airport.

Women were then led from aircraft to ambulances on the tarmac, where they were subjected to invasive examinations to see if they had recently given birth.

Mr Wolfgang Babeck, a passenger on one of the affected flights, a Qatar Airways service to Sydney, said the women who were subjected to the searches were "shell-shocked" after their ordeals.

Qatar is an ultra-conservative Muslim monarchy, where sex and childbirth outside of marriage are punishable by jail.

Qatar said yesterday that task forces were looking at "potential gaps in the procedures and protocols" at the airport.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2020, with the headline 'Qatar to charge those behind invasive searches of women'. Print Edition | Subscribe