Australian media says female passengers on flight to Sydney were subject to invasive internal exams at Doha airport.
Qatar has referred several officials who were behind the forced and invasive physical examinations of female passengers at Hamad International Airport to prosecutors, saying “standard procedures were violated”, according to a government statement.
The incident on October 2 saw airport staff take women off several planes to examine them to check whether they were the mother of an abandoned baby.
The newborn, a girl, was found in a plastic bag in a bin at a restroom in one of the airport’s terminals.
“The preliminary investigation into the attempted murder of a newborn baby found in a very serious condition at Hamad International Airport (HIA), and the subsequent procedures taken by the authorities at the airport, including examining a number of female passengers, revealed that standard procedures were violated,” a statement by the Government Communications Office (GCO) said.
“Those responsible for these violations and illegal actions have been referred to the Public Prosecution Office,” the statement added.
The GCO said investigators were “reviewing and identifying any potential gaps in the procedures and protocols followed at Hamad International Airport, in order to address them and ensure that any violations are avoided in the future”.
Prime Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al Thani expressed Qatar’s “sincerest apology for what some female travellers went through as a result of the measures”.
We regret the unacceptable treatment of the female passengers at HIA. I assure you that we will hold those responsible for these acts to account. What took place does not represent Qatar’s laws or values. We will undertake all measures to prevent a recurrence.
— خالد بن خليفة آل ثاني (@KBKAlThani) October 30, 2020
The GCO statement added: “This incident is the first of its kind at HIA, which has served tens of millions of passengers without any issues like this before. What took place is wholly inconsistent with Qatar’s culture and values. Qatar is fully committed to the safety and security of all travellers arriving to or transiting through HIA.”
On Friday, Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani renewed its apology in a telephone call with Marise Payne, Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, a joint statement, released on Saturday, said.
“The two Foreign Ministers agreed to continue to monitor the case closely and exchange updates, assuring that this is a top priority for both governments,” the statement added.
HIA launched an appeal on Sunday for the child’s mother to come forward, saying the baby remains unidentified but is “safe under the professional care of medical and social workers”.
‘Grossly disturbing, offensive’
Australia’s foreign minister said female passengers on 10 flights departing from Doha were forced to endure the examinations, expanding the number of women first thought affected.
Payne, at a hearing in Australia’s Senate on Wednesday, described the acts of the airport’s staff as “grossly disturbing” and “offensive”.
Australia had registered its “serious concern” about the treatment of the women, she added.
The women said they were taken from the respective planes and subjected to strip search in an ambulance parked on the tarmac.
A spokesperson for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told Al Jazeera that “18 female passengers … were involved in the incident” on the October 2 flight to Sydney, adding that 13 of them were Australian and five were of other nationalities.
The Transport Workers’ Union of New South Wales, whose members service Qatar Airways planes at Sydney Airport, said on Tuesday it was considering industrial action against the carrier for “the brutal attack on the human rights of Australian female airline passengers”.
“Other countries affected absolutely share Australia’s views and the strength of Australia’s views,” said Frances Adamson, secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. “This is not by any standard normal behaviour and the Qataris recognise that and are appalled by it, do not want it to happen again.”
Australia was alerted to the incident by a female Australian diplomat who was on the flight and was “shocked at what happened”, Adamson said. The diplomat was not searched.