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SYDNEY: Lawyers for a group of women subjected to intrusive searches at Doha Airport two years ago called Sunday for Qatar to guarantee female fans travelling to next month’s football World Cup will be safe.

Five women are suing Qatar Airways and the state-run Qatar Civil Aviation Authority after they were removed from flights for non-consensual gynaecological examinations in October 2020.

“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 AFP.

“With the World Cup less than a month away female travellers are entitled to an assurance from Qatar that their human rights will be respected.”

Authorities in Doha carried out the searches hoping to find the mother of a newborn baby abandoned in an airport bathroom bin.

After the child was discovered the airport was locked down and women on about 10 flights were shooed into ambulances where they were subject to invasive examinations to see if they had recently given birth.

The incident caused a major diplomatic incident and prompted a “sincerest apology” from the prime minister of Qatar.

Two years later, a group of women are taking Qatari authorities to court in Australia, claiming unspecified costs and damages for the trauma of the event.

Aftermath

According to papers filed with an Australian federal court earlier this month, the five women were between 31 and 73 years old at the time.

They were all passengers on flight QR908 from Doha’s Hamad International to Sydney.

One was legally blind, and another was accompanying her five-month-old child.

As the plane sat on the tarmac, a cabin announcement instructed all women aboard to leave the aircraft with their passports and “persons in dark uniforms armed with guns entered the aircraft”.

Four of the women were then taken into ambulances, their clothing was removed and they were subjected to intrusive examinations of their genitals – and in one case the breasts and stomach.

One woman had her infant son on her chest at the time.

The women are all said to be suffering from post-traumatic stress.

They accuse Qatar Airways and the authorities of neglect, assault, battery, false imprisonment and a range of other breaches of the law.

Qatar Airways and the government of Qatar did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but the authorities have previously announced that prosecutions would be made of those responsible for the searches.

Facing potentially devastating commercial and reputational damage, Qatar has repeatedly vowed to guarantee the future “safety and security” of passengers.

The timing of the court case comes as Qatar prepares to host at least a million fans for the FIFA World Cup from November 20.

Qatar’s glitzy World Cup is ready and expensive

The Gulf nation has faced intense scrutiny over its human rights record ahead of the tournament, and concerns about strict local customs that might trip up foreign visitors.

Wearing a Muslim veil is not compulsory for women but they must dress “modestly” in public, covered from the shoulders to knees.

In November 2020, Qatari authorities said they had identified the parents of the abandoned child and the “fugitive” mother from an Asian country. She faces 15 years in jail if apprehended.

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