Australian women who had their underwear ripped off before enduring invasive genealogical exams in Qatar are demanding that authorities punish the people behind their horrific treatment.
Thirteen innocent women were waiting on the tarmac on board a Sydney-bound Qatar Airlines flight from London on October 2 last year when they were ordered off the plane to undergo their excruciating ordeal.
Authorities in the hard-line Islamic nation were hunting for the mother of a newly-born baby found alive in a bin at the Hamad International Airport in Doha, and rounded up all women ‘of childbearing age’ before subjecting them to invasive strip searches.
The women who endured the search in which they were forced to strip completely naked for body cavity inspections described the experience as ‘humiliating’ and ‘traumatising’.
The group of Australian women are now taking the Qatari authorities to court over what they believe was a human rights violation, saying they received no apology for their treatment and have not seen any justice served for airport officials.
CCTV footage released by local media showed first responders crowded around the baby (pictured) at Doha Airport
Staff strip searched the women – who had been on a Qatar Airways flight – without their consent after allegedly discovering an abandoned baby in an airport bathroom (file picture)
The ordeal began when a disturbing message came over the intercom on the flight, demanding that all women onboard disembark the plane with their passports.
The confused passengers, some of whom feared it was a terrorist incident, were then taken by guards on an elevator to awaiting ambulances – with no idea what was in store for them.
One woman named Anna who was among the group aboard Qatar Airways flight 908 said: ‘I thought we were going to be kidnapped or held as legal pawns. I feared we were going to be raped and that my child is going to be taken and that we will never see family again.
‘It was the scariest moment of my life.
‘I was crying and shaking and squeezing my baby. I didn’t want to get on an elevator with armed guards not knowing where we were going and where we were being taken.’
Once inside the ambulance, the women said that a nurse offered nothing but a brief explanation before ordering them to lie down on the gurney.
‘She grabbed under my pants and my underwear and she stripped them,’ Anna said.
‘It was a humiliation, an abuse of power and a breach of my human rights.’
‘No one is allowed to touch me, no one is allowed to strip me naked without my consent and that is what happened to me in a major airport, one of the biggest airports in the world with a major airline.’
Meanwhile, fellow passenger Sophie told 60 Minutes that the experience has left her with severe trauma, confirming that she notified the Australian Federal Police of the incident as soon as she returned to Australia.
Sophie (pictured on 60 Minutes) said the ordeal at the hands of Qatar authorities was traumatising and confirmed she immediately notified the Australian Federal Police upon her return.
Anna (pictured on 60 Minutes) said it was the scariest moment of her life when guards took her off the plane. ”I thought we were going to be kidnapped or held as legal pawns. I feared we were going to be raped and that my child is going to be taken and that we will never see family again.’
‘I felt very angry and full of rage leaving the ambulance that I didn’t have a stronger voice that I allowed that to take place, that I didn’t protest enough. I felt powerless.’
Grandmother Kim Mills also recounted what happened inside the ambulance.
‘She told me to pull my pants down and that they needed to examine my vagina,’ the Australian woman told the Guardian.
‘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 escape, but there was nowhere to run and she eventually relented.
‘I was panicking. Everyone had gone white and was shaking,’ she said.
Although Qatari authorities condemned the incident at the time, no meaningful action has been taken over the mass assaults which were also carried out on an unknown number of women of other nationalities (pictured: Doha skyline)
The women were sitting on board a Sydney-bound flight from Hamad International Airport (pictured) in Doha on October 2 when they were hauled off the plane and bundled into ambulances to undergo the exam
Ms Mills said the women were then brought to an interview room and told to provide their flight information.
By the time she arrived back on the plane, she said her legs were ‘just wobbling’ and she asked why they weren’t told what was going on.
‘I can’t imagine what it was like for those poor young girls, it must have been horrendous,’ she said.
‘I’m a mother of three daughters and when I got back on the plane and reflected on it and thought, I am so glad it wasn’t any of my girls.’
Another young woman named Jane remembered thinking ‘this is bizarre, like why am I having to remove my pants?’ when ordered inside of the ambulance.
‘She said “I need to remove your underwear” and I said “I don’t feel comfortable with removing my underwear”.
‘I was physically holding them up and she said “no, no they need to come down”.’
‘I said “why, why?” and I was in shock. I remember laying there thinking this isn’t right, this isn’t how this should be happening. This isn’t how this should be done.’
Although Qatar authorities condemned the incident at the time, no meaningful action has been taken over the mass assaults which were also carried out on an unknown number of women of other nationalities.
The Persian Gulf state blamed the entire incident on one guard who reportedly received nothing more than a suspended sentence.
The Australian government formally registered serious concerns with Qatari authorities but no meaningful action has been taken (pictured: Doha Airport)
Although the Qatari government initially called the incident ‘unacceptable’, they are yet to apologise to the women affected, and Qatar Airways have also refused to make an official apology to those on board.
The women have therefore decided to take legal action against Qatar Airways and the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority on allegations of assault, battery and deprivation of liberty.
‘We were led into these ambulances with no choice, but we have a choice now and we are going to take action,’ Sophie said.
Legal counsel Damian Sturzaker from law firm Marque, said: ‘The incident was in breach of many international covenants and obviously in breach of human rights.
‘One can see it was a massive overreaction to the circumstances the airport authorities found themselves in. One certainly can’t ever imagine that happening at Mascot or Tullamarine (airports in Australia).
‘We want a reasonable outcome and for positive steps to be taken guarantee the safety of women and more generally people in general travelling through Doha.’
Sexual violence victims ‘can easily become the accused’ in Qatar due to government’s extreme view of Islamic law, campaigners warn
Campaigners say victims of sexual violence ‘can easily become the accused’ in the authoritarian Gulf state, due to the government’s extreme interpretation of Islamic law.
Many cases have emerged in Qatar of men being taken at their word claiming sex was consensual, leaving the accuser facing charges of having sex outside of marriage. Punishments for the crime of ‘zina’ – any act of illicit intercourse – normally involve a year in prison and, if the woman is Muslim, up to 100 lashes.
Rothna Begum, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, told The Mail on Sunday of her fears that zina laws will be brought into focus at next year’s World Cup.
‘Our concern is that while Qatar is a safe country, the World Cup – as with any major event – will inevitably see an increase in sexual violence cases and the risk of women, possibly football fans from other countries, becoming double victims,’ said Ms Begum.