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Qatar Says Officials Who Subjected Female Passengers at Doha Airport to Vaginal Exams Broke the Law

Qatar Says Officials Who Subjected Female Passengers at Doha Airport to Vaginal Exams Broke the Law

Photo Credit: Qatar Airways

The State of Qatar has finally apologised to a group of innocent women who were forced to undress and then be subjected to intimate vaginal exams as officials looked for recent signs of childbirth. Two days after saying he “regretted” what happened to at least 13 women at Doha Hamad International Airport, the country’s Prime Minister now says Qatar offered its “sincerest apology” for what the women were put through.

There has been widespread international outrage after the stories of some of the Australian women who were due to fly on Qatar Airways flight QR908 from Doha to Sydney on October 2 made headlines around the world. An initial statement released on Wednesday did little to dampen criticism from the international community.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar is one of five 'aviation mega-cities' in the Middle East. That number is forecast to more than double to 11 cities in the region by 2036. Photo Credit: Qatar Airways
Photo Credit: Hamad International Airport

Qatar now says standard operating procedures weren’t followed and “those responsible for these violations and illegal actions have been referred to the Public Prosecution Office.” The Prime Minister’s statement did not say how many people were being investigated, what crimes they were accused of, or whether any charges had yet been brought.

Some of the victims have described how all of the women on flight QR908 were suddenly ordered off the plane as they were waiting to depart. They were then led into a basement area and one by one, women of childbearing age were escorted into an ambulance where they were told to undress and a vaginal exam was conducted to check for signs of recent childbirth.

The victims said they felt no choice but to comply with the instructions, leading to one human rights organisation saying what happened to them could amount to “sexual assault“.

The “grossly disturbing” and “offensive” incident took place after a prematurely born baby was found “in a trash can, concealed in a plastic bag and buried under garbage,” in a restroom in Hamad airport.

On Wednesday, Qatar’s Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al Thani initially attempted to justify what happened to a group of female passengers across 10 separate flights.

“The baby girl was rescued from what appeared to be a shocking and appalling attempt to kill her,” the country’s official media office said. “This egregious and life-threatening violation of the law triggered an immediate search for the parents,” the statement continued.

Al Thani said the country regretted “any distress or infringement on the personal freedoms of any traveller caused by this action,” but his words fell short of a formal apology.

He now says the country offers its “sincerest apology for what some female travelers went through as a result of the measures (to find the parent of the abandoned child)”.

“What took place is wholly inconsistent with Qatar’s culture and values,” Al Thani said on Friday. “Qatar is fully committed to the safety and security of all travelers arriving to or transiting through HIA,” he continued.

The incident has created a diplomatic spat with Australia, leading to Prime Minister Scott Morrison describing the incident as “unaccpetable” and “appalling”.

“As a father of a daughter, I could only shudder at the thought that anyone would, Australian or otherwise, would be subjected to that,” he told parliament earlier this week.

Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Marise Payne has referred the case to the Australian Federal Police and has demanded a full report from Qatar as soon as possible.

Amnesty International has called for an independent investigation, saying that’s the only way to get a “truly transparent account of what occurred”.

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