Australian women sue Qatar Airways for 2020 invasive searches at Hamad airport

Doha News reached out to Qatar Airways and Qatari authorities for a statement and has yet to hear back from both entities.

Five Australian women subjected to an alleged non-consensual strip search at Hamad International Airport (HIA) in 2020 are suing Qatar Airways and the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority, AFP reported.

Seeking damages, the five women took the case up to the New South Wales (NSW) supreme court two years later.

“This group of brave women have been forced to go to court to send a message to Qatar that what happened was wrong and should not be allowed to take place again,” lawyer Damian Sturzaker told the French news agency.

The incident occurred when a newborn baby girl was found abandoned in a restroom at a HIA terminal in 2020. Upon discovery of the baby, 13 Australian women among others were taken off a Qatar Airways flight as security scrambled to find the mother.

The women say they were then subjected to an alleged “non-consensual” invasive medical examination in an effort to find the baby’s mother. Investigations found that the mother proceeded to board a flight after discarding the baby.

Sources had told Doha News last year that the baby was taken to Qatar’s Orphans Care Center (Dreama), where authorities have ensured she is taken care of.

Doha News also learned that one the security official responsible for ordering the invasive searches was charged a hefty fine and given a six-month prison sentence which he then appealed, but was upheld by the Qatari courts.

Citing court filings, AFP reported that the five women were between the ages of 31 and 73 at the time of the incident. They were all on flight QR908 from Doha to Sydney. The papers stated that one of the women was legally blind and another was with her five-month-old child.

The women now say they are suffering from post-traumatic stress as a result of the harrowing incident. The plaintiffs also accuse the Qatari flag carrier and authorities of various breaches of the law, including assault and false imprisonment.

Meanwhile, The Guardian reported that there were economic losses reported by the women “as a result of needing to take medical leave from work due to the effects of the events” on their mental health.

With Qatar and Australia being part of the 1999 Montreal Convention, legal action can be brought at the aircraft’s destination or the passengers’ place of residence, The Guardian reported.

Doha News reached out to Qatar Airways and Qatari authorities for a statement and has yet to hear back from both entities.

Qatar’s apology

In February this year, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani renewed Doha’s apology to the Australian women.

Responding to whether the women should be compensated, Sheikh Mohammed said that the matter had been settled, as the Sydney Herald reported.

“As the government we are taking the full responsibility of this action, and we are penalising the people who were responsible for such a slip, which was a big mistake,” he said.

Sheikh Mohammed noted that “it was a single incident that happened and nothing happened after” it.

“We are assuring the safety and security of women and men who are travelling through Qatar Airways,” said the Qatari diplomat.

In November last year, seven women who were victims of the invasive search announced their plans to sue Qatar, claiming the Gulf state had yet to provide them with a formal apology.

Despite the women’s claims, Qatar did release a public condemnation and an apology for the incident. The Gulf state’s communications office (GCO) also released a statement on 28 October, 2020, condemning the violation of the women’s rights.

The Sydney Morning Herald said that the lawyer representing the women in NSW Supreme Court is claiming that training regimes have never been released publicly.

Last year, however, Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) organised a training course for leaders of HIA. The programme was titled “International Standards for Human Rights at Airports” and applied international human rights standards.

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