DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Prosecutors in Qatar said Monday that the airport police officers who ordered forced vaginal examinations of female passengers after an abandoned newborn was discovered in a trash can face possible three-year prison sentences.
Prosecutors did not say how many police officers at Hamad International Airport faced charges over the Oct. 2 incident that sparked widespread anger in Australia, a key destination for the state-owned Qatar Airways.
“Extensive investigations revealed that some employees of the Airport Security Department acted unilaterally by summoning female medical staff to conduct external examination to some female passengers, thinking that what they had done was within the law,” a statement from prosecutors said.
The abandoned newborn’s mother, whom the statement described as a “convict,” also faces up to 15 years in prison if apprehended. The woman apparently flew out of the country before the baby was discovered. Prosecutors said DNA helped them identify her and the baby’s father.
The physical examinations of passengers bound for Sydney and nine other unnamed destinations triggered outrage in Australia. The government denounced the searches as inappropriate and beyond circumstances in which the women could give free and informed consent. Rights activists say such exams conducted under duress amount to sexual assault.
In Qatar, like much of the Middle East, sex and childbirth outside of marriage are criminalized. 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.
Qatar, a small, energy-rich state on the Arabian Peninsula, will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.