30 October 2020

Qatar airport officials could face charges over forced bodily examinations of women

Qatar says it has referred officials at its international airport to prosecutors for possible charges after women abroad Qatar Airways flights were forced to undergo vaginal examinations after workers found an abandoned baby.

The statement came after the Australian government expressed outrage and union workers threatened not to service Qatar Airways aircraft in Sydney over the October 2 incident.

Australia represents a crucial route for Qatar Airways, the state-owned long-haul carrier based at Hamad International Airport in Doha.

In a statement, Qatar’s Government Communication Office described the abandoning of the baby as an “attempted murder”.

“The subsequent procedures taken by the authorities at the airport, including examining a number of female passengers, revealed that standard procedures were violated,” the statement said.

“Those responsible for these violations and illegal actions have been referred to the Public Prosecution Office.”

The statement did not identify who had given the order. It said an investigation by Qatari authorities continued.

It said Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al Thani, the country’s prime minister and interior minister, offered his nation’s “sincerest apology” to the women, adding: “What took place is wholly inconsistent with Qatar’s culture and values. Qatar is fully committed to the safety and security of all travellers.”

The physical examinations of passengers bound for Sydney triggered outrage in Australia, where the government denounced the searches as inappropriate and beyond circumstances in which the women could give free and informed consent.

Qatar Examinations (AP)

Rights activists say such exams conducted under duress amount to sexual assault.

As the reports came to light this week, the government of Qatar apologised and promised a full investigation to be shared internationally. It earlier called the discovery of the newborn buried in a plastic bag under rubbish “an egregious and life-threatening” act.

In Qatar, like much of the Middle East, sex and childbirth outside of marriage are criminalised. Migrant workers in the past have hidden pregnancies and tried to travel abroad to give birth, and others have abandoned their babies anonymously to avoid imprisonment.

The revelation that women on 10 flights in Doha earlier this month were subjected to invasive vaginal exams has spiralled into a public relations catastrophe for Qatar, a tiny oil-rich state on the Arabian Peninsula and host nation for the 2022 Fifa World Cup.

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