Women travelers to sue Qatar over ‘invasive’ body searches

Passengers arrive at the Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar on June 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Malak Harb, File)

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A group of seven Australia-based women plan to sue Qatar’s government for being forced to undergo invasive gynecological examinations at Doha’s international airport after an abandoned newborn was found in a trash can there last year, their lawyer said on Monday.

The Australian government at the time condemned Qatari authorities’ treatment of the women who were subjected to the examinations at Hamad International Airport on Oct. 2, 2020, after Qatar Airways Flight 908 to Sydney was delayed.

The seven were among 13 women on the flight who were “invasively examined” on the tarmac, said their lawyer Damian Sturzaker, from Sydney-based Marque Lawyers.

“What they want is first of all compensation for the fact that they were effected at the time and continue to suffer,” Sturzaker said. “They have problems dealing with what was a very traumatic episode.”

Nine or 10 other flights out of Doha were similarly delayed while women passengers were searched, he added.

Sturzaker said he was not aware of passengers on other flights taking legal action against the Qataris over the episode, for which the Qatar government has apologized.

“They want an apology from the Qatar government for their treatment and what they want and have been asking for quite a long time is that procedures are put in place so that this won’t happen again,” Sturzaker added.

The women, aged from their early 30s to late 50s, would likely initiate legal action in the New South Wales state Supreme Court within a few weeks, the lawyer said.

The women have not specified the amount of compensation that they are seeking.

The Qatar government, the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority, as well as the state-owned airline and airport, have been forwarded legal advice that Australian courts had jurisdiction to hear the case and that the claimants were likely to win, Sturzaker said.

The Qatar government declined to comment, but pointed to its previous statements on the incident in which it offered its “sincerest apology” and said that “those responsible for these violations and illegal actions” had been referred to prosecutors.

Australian Federal Police informed the complainants last week that a single airport police officer had been fined and given a six-month suspended prison sentence for enforcing the examinations, Sturzaker said.

Th airline has denied liability while the Qatar government said it was considering the women’s claim, Sturzaker said.

“We don’t hold out much hope in relation to anything other than a rejection of the claim,” Sturzaker said, meaning the claim would go to trial.

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.