Australian women sue over Qatar airport strip-searches

File photo of Qatar Airways plane

A group of Australian women who were strip-searched and examined at Doha airport are suing authorities in Qatar.

The women were ordered off a flight and checked for whether they had given birth after a baby was found in a bin at Hamad Airport in October 2020.

They described their experience as state-sanctioned assault and the incident sparked widespread outrage. Qatar later apologized and one airport official was handed a suspended jail sentence. But the women say their cases have since been ignored.

They were taken off the Qatar Airways plane by armed guards before being taken into ambulances on the tarmac where they were inspected by nurses. The women said they did not consent to the examinations and were not given explanations for what was happening to them.

One of the women, who did not want to be named, said she was “subjected to the most horrifically invasive physical exam”. “I was certain that I was either going to be killed by one of the many men that had a gun, or that my husband on the plane was going to be killed,” she said in a statement from her lawyer.

The examinations lasted about five minutes before they were escorted back to their flight. Several women reported the incident to police after landing in Australia, sparking public attention and condemnation from several nations.

At the time, Qatar’s Prime Minister Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al Thani tweeted an apology saying: “We regret the unacceptable treatment of the female passengers… What took place does not reflect Qatar’s laws or values.” The Gulf state launched a criminal prosecution which led to a suspended jail term for an airport official.

But Damian Sturzaker, a lawyer for seven of the women, said they had been “met with a wall of silence” despite trying to engage with the Qatari authorities.

They want a formal apology from Qatar and the airport to change its procedures to make sure the incident does not happen again, Mr Sturzaker said.

The women are seeking damages and allege assault, battery, trespass and false imprisonment by the Qatari government, Qatar’s Civil Aviation Authority and Qatar Airways.

One of the women – who said she had recurring nightmares about the incident – said the alleged lack of action from the Qatari authorities had spurred the women to take action.

“By speaking up, we want to ensure that no woman is ever subjected to the demoralizing, horrendous treatment we were subjected to,” she said. Qatar is set to receive thousands of foreign visitors when it hosts the 2022 football World Cup.

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