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Australian women to sue Qatar over forced invasive examinations at Doha airport

<i>KARIM JAAFAR/AFP/AFP via Getty Images</i><br/>A group of seven Australian women
AFP via Getty Images
A group of seven Australian women

By Helen Regan and Mayumi Maruyama, CNN

A group of seven Australian women, some of whom were subjected to invasive medical examinations after authorities found an abandoned baby at Doha international airport, are planning on suing the Qatar government, their lawyer confirmed Tuesday.

The women were told to disembark their Qatar Airways plane and forced to undergo inspections without their consent and given no clear explanation, while transiting through Qatar on October 2, 2020.

The search was triggered after airport authorities discovered a newborn baby found wrapped in a plastic bag and found either in or beside a trash can in a bathroom at Hamad International Airport, the government said at the time.

Following the discovery of the infant, more than 18 women from 10 different flights, including 13 Australians aboard a Sydney-bound plane, were involved in the incident.

The women were taken off the plane by armed Qatari authorities and subjected to the physical examinations in ambulances on the airport tarmac, allegedly to determine whether they were the mother of the newborn baby.

“Two of the younger women were subjected to an incredibly invasive gynecological examination. All the examinations were non-consensual,” Damian Sturzaker, a lawyer representing the women with Sydney-based Marque Lawyers, told CNN.

One woman had her 5-month-old baby with her and “explained that she couldn’t be the mother of this found child, but they said they had to examine them and forced her to take off her underclothes,” Sturzaker said.

The examinations caused outrage in Australia and around the world, with the actions were likened to sexual assault. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison denounced the incident as “appalling” and “unacceptable.”

The government of Qatar issued a statement on October 28 last year apologizing for “any distress or infringement on the personal freedom of any traveler” as a result of the incident.

CNN has reached out to the Qatar government for comment on the lawsuit, but did not receive a response to the out of hours request at the time of publishing. CNN has also reached out to Qatar Airways for comment.

At the time, Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, “expressed his deepest sympathies with the women impacted by the search at the airport and renewed the State of Qatar’s apology to them.”

He said in a statement, “the incident is considered a violation of Qatar’s laws and values.”

Despite the outrage over the case and promises by Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payne for action, “nothing has been done,” the lawyer Sturzaker said.

Following the incident, a Qatari prosecutor said an unspecified number of airport security staff responsible for carrying out examinations of female passengers were charged. One officer was given a suspended sentence, according to CNN affiliate 7 News.

But Sturzaker said there has been no publication of results from the investigation, and no communication of changes in airport procedures.

The women, aged between 30 and late 50, have also suffered ongoing mental health difficulties from the incident, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, a fear of flying and some have had to take time off work and seek psychological counseling, Sturzaker said.

They want an apology from the Qatari government and to have meaningful dialogue with Qatar authorities so similar incidents do not happen again, Sturzaker said.

Sturzaker has written a letter to Qatar Airways, the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority, and the Qatar Embassy in Canberra, and included legal advice that said if the incident happened in Australia, it would amount to assault, battery, or trespass to the person, and said the women are entitled to compensation.

The women are seeking uncapped damages for emotional harm, loss of income, and medical treatment, he said, adding a suit will be filed within the next few weeks in the New South Wales Supreme Court in Sydney,” Sturzaker said.

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