Qatar apologises over invasive examinations on Australia-bound women passengers


Qatar has apologised after female passengers on a flight to Sydney were subjected to invasive examinations following the discovery of an abandoned baby at the country’s international airport.

The Qatari government’s communications office said in a statement that a new-born infant was found in a trash can, concealed in a plastic bag and buried under garbage in a terminal toilet before a flight from Doha to Sydney was scheduled to take off on October 02.

The Qatari government said that the baby girl was rescued from “what appeared to be a shocking and appalling attempt to kill her.”

“While the aim of the urgently decided search was to prevent the perpetrators of the horrible crime from escaping, the State of Qatar regrets any distress or infringement on the personal freedoms of any traveller caused by this action,” the statement said.

The baby, whose mother has not been located, is safe and receiving medical care in Doha, it added.

Qatar’s prime minister, Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al Thani, has ordered an investigation into the incident.

Australian officials told a government committee hearing in Canberra on Wednesday that in addition to 18 women on a Qatar Airways flight to Sydney, another nine flights had been searched.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, speaking about the issue for the first time, told reporters in Canberra that “Australia’s strong objections and views” about the incident involving Australian travellers.

Frances Adamson, Australia’s secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said that “this is not by any standard normal behaviour and the Qataris recognise that, are appalled by it, do not want it to happen again”.

Australia was notified of the incident by a female Australian diplomat who was on the flight and was “shocked at what happened”, Adamson added. The Australian diplomat was not searched.

The results of the investigation will be shared with international partners, the Qatari statement said.

“The Qatari investigation is to determine which laws might have been violated, any individuals responsible, and recommend disciplinary and prosecutorial action where appropriate,” a source with knowledge of the investigation told Reuters.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement Qatar should prohibit forced gynaecological exams, and it was also concerned at the circumstances that may have led to a baby being abandoned.

Sexual relations outside of wedlock are criminalised in Qatar, with hospitals required to report pregnant women to authorities.

Human Rights Watch senior researcher Rothna Begum said the alleged actions of Qatari authorities had “failed many women – the unknown woman apparently forced to give birth in an airport toilet, unable to ask for assistance with her labour or on what to do with the baby, and the multiple women reportedly pulled off the plane for examinations”. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)