Australia condemns Qatar strip search of women as 'grossly disturbing, offensive'

World | 26 Oct 2020 12:07 pm

An Australian woman strip-searched by authorities at a Qatari airport after a premature baby was found in a bathroom says she is considering legal action over the "terrifying" experience, ABC News Australia reports.

Two passengers from QR908 both told the ABC they had no idea what was happening to them when all women on the plane were asked to get off after a three-hour delay on October 2.

The two women wanted to remain anonymous and did not know each other before boarding the flight to Sydney.

It had been due to leave Hamad International Airport (HIA) at 8:30pm local time but was delayed for three hours after a premature baby was found in a bathroom at the terminal — a detail confused passengers said was not communicated to them.

One of the women said all adult females were removed from the plane by authorities and taken to two ambulances waiting outside the airport.

"No-one spoke English or told us what was happening. It was terrifying," she said.

"There were 13 of us and we were all made to leave.

"A mother near me had left her sleeping children on the plane.

"There was an elderly woman who was vision impaired and she had to go too. I'm pretty sure she was searched."

She said while she respected Qatar's laws and culture, she was considering legal action.

"If the other 12 women came forward with a class action, I would definitely be part of that," she said.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the "grossly disturbing, offensive, concerning set of events" had been referred to the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

In a statement, HIA confirmed the infant was "safe" and being cared for in Qatar, and that medical professionals "expressed concern to officials about the health and welfare of a mother who had just given birth and requested she be located prior to departing".

The other female passenger who spoke to the ABC said she was with a group of about six women, who began panicking when they realised they were being taken outside the airport.

"When I got in there, and there was a lady with a mask on and then the authorities closed the ambulance behind me and locked it," she said.

"They never explained anything.

"She told me to pull my pants down and that I needed to examine my vagina.

"I said 'I'm not doing that' and she did not explain anything to me. She just kept saying, 'we need to see it we need to see it'."

The woman said she tried to get out of the ambulance and the authorities on the other side opened the door.

"I jumped out and then ran over to the other girls. There was nowhere for me to run," she said.

The woman said she took her clothes off and was inspected, and touched, by the female nurse.

"I was panicking. Everyone had gone white and was shaking," she said.

"I was very scared at that point, I didn't know what the possibilities were."

Senator Payne, who is also Minister for Women, said she was expecting a report on the incident from the Qatari Government this week.

"It is not something I have ever heard of occurring in my life, in any context," she said.

"We have made our views very clear to the Qatari authorities on this matter."

Senator Payne said the matter had been reported to the AFP.

It is not clear what powers the AFP would have over the incident, which occurred in Doha in the Middle East.

Senator Payne declined to elaborate further until she had seen the report, but did say the Government was informed of the matter when it occurred on October 2.

Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese described the incident as "really disturbing" and said he would ask for a briefing from the Government.

"In my view, it is completely unacceptable," he said. 

"The Government has a relationship with Qatar, the Government's in a position to regulate a range of activities and I would have thought that it needs something other than just strong words."

NSW Police said the women received medical and psychological support while in hotel quarantine in Sydney.

 

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