Australian women sue Qatar over invasive strip searches

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Australian women sue Qatar over invasive strip searches

A group of Australian women are suing Qatari authorities after being ordered off flights in Doha and forced to undergo invasive body exams during a search for the mother of a newborn found in an airport bathroom, their lawyer said Monday.

The incident at Hamad Airport in October 2020 sparked widespread outrage after women on 10 Qatar Airways flights, including 13 Australians, described their ordeal as state-sanctioned assault.

An attorney at Sydney-based firm Marque Lawyers said seven of the women plan legal action to “send a message to Qatari authorities that you can’t treat women … in this manner.”

“The group of women have suffered enormous distress on the evening concerned, now just over a year ago, and they continue to suffer distress and ill effects and trauma as a result of what occurred,” Damian Sturzaker said, according to Agence France-Presse.

Sturzaker said the women, who were “being ignored,” are seeking a formal apology, compensation and protection for future passengers transiting through the airport in the capital of the Gulf state.

A group of Australian women are suing Qatari authorities after being ordered off flights in Doha and forced to undergo invasive body exams.
A group of Australian women are suing Qatari authorities after being ordered off flights in Doha and forced to undergo invasive body exams.
Anne Levasseur/AFPTV/AFP via Get

“Sometimes you need to deploy a legal remedy in circumstances where either moral, or in fact even political or diplomatic pressure was getting nowhere,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Sturzaker accused state-owned Qatar Airways, the Qatari embassy in Canberra and the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority of assault, battery and deprivation of the women’s liberty.

“The sort of conduct that occurred here was in breach of many international covenants and obviously in breach of human rights,” he said. “What we’ll be doing is bringing proceedings here in Australia against Qatar Airways for their breach of duty of care and against the Qatar government given it controls the airport, for the way in which they treated the women.”

Australian-based lawyers are demanding that the airline formally apologize to their clients.
Australian-based lawyers are demanding that the airline formally apologize to their clients.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP via Getty Images

Qatar is an ultra-conservative Muslim monarchy, where sex and childbirth outside marriage are punishable by prison terms. Ahead of next year’s World Cup in the country, it has struggled to reassure critics that its promises on women’s rights are credible.

The country later apologized over the searches, vowed to guarantee the future “safety and security” of passengers and one airport police officer was handed a suspended jail sentence.

During the incident, authorities grounded flights after a baby was found abandoned in a bathroom. Armed guards ordered all female passengers of child-bearing age into ambulances for physical exams to determine if they had recently given birth. None of the women gave their consent.

According to the women, the incident happened at Hamad Airport in late October.
According to the women, the incident happened at Hamad Airport in late October.
Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images

The women told the Sydney Morning Herald that they have yet to receive a formal apology from Qatari officials.

Among the women to be removed from a flight bound for Sydney was Anna, whose name was changed to protect her identity, according to the paper, which said she had been heading back home with her 5-month-old son.

“It was the scariest moment of my life,” the woman said in her first public comments about the incident.

The airline released a statement saying that had fired the officer who was in charge of the searches, however they have yet to issue an apology.
The airline released a statement saying that it had fired the officer who was in charge of the searches, however, it has yet to issue an apology.
G.N.Miller/NYPost

“[The nurse] said, ‘I need you to lay down on the bed’ … and she grabbed my pants and my underwear and she stripped them. And for a second I just think my head was about to explode,” she told the Morning Herald.

“It’s a humiliation and the abuse of power, the breach of my human rights. No one is allowed to touch me. No one is allowed to strip me naked without my consent … And that’s what happened in a major airport, one of the biggest airports in the world with a major airline,” she added.

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