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Friday, December 3, 2021

Australian women to sue Qatar over HIA strip search incident


The incident occurred last year after a newborn baby girl was found abandoned in a bin at one of Hamad International Airport’s [HIA] facilities.

Seven women subjected to nonconsensual invasive searches at HIA last year are planning to sue Qatari authorities over the incident after reportedly not receiving a formal apology or compensation, AFP reported on Monday.

Speaking to the news agency, the women’s lawyer Damian Sturzaker of the Sydney-based firm Marque Lawyers, said they are pursuing legal action to “send a message to Qatari authorities that you can’t treat women… in this manner”.

“The group of women have suffered enormous distress on the evening concerned, now just over a year ago, and they continue to suffer distress and ill effects and trauma as a result of what occurred,” he told AFP.

The lawyer said that the lawsuit would be filed in Australia against the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority, HIA, Qatar Airways and the government within weeks.

Thirteen Australian women, among others, were taken off a Qatar Airways flight in October last year and subjected to a thorough medical examination after an abandoned baby girl was found in a restroom at HIA.

Investigations revealed that the mother, while leaving Doha, gave birth and dumped the baby in a trash can in one of the toilets in the departures terminal. She then proceeded to board a flight.

Qatar’s Public Prosecution said the woman had sent a message and an image of the new-born to the child’s father, who has since admitted to their relationship. The message informed him that she had discarded the baby and was fleeing to her home country.

Sources had told Doha News that the baby remains at Qatar’s Orphans Care Center [Dreama], where authorities have ensure she is taken care of.

Australia presses Qatar for report into airport ‘abandoned baby’ incident


“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,” one of the women who were escorted from the flight told 60 Minutes on Sunday.

A formal apology

Despite the women claiming to have yet receive an apology from the Gulf state, authorities from Qatar did release a public condemnation and an apology for the incident.

While there was no comment on the update from the Qatari government, the Gulf state’s communications office [GCO] released a statement on 28 October last year condemning the violation of the women’s rights.

“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,” said the GCO.

The GCO statement added that those “responsible for these violations and illegal actions have been referred to the Public Prosecution Office”.

Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani also condemned the incident last year while apologising for the violation of the women passengers’ rights.

Doha News also learned that one the security official responsible for ordering the invasive searches was charged a hefty fine and given a six-month prison sentence which he then appealed, but was upheld by the Qatari courts.

The women also said they have been ignored by the Australian government following Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s comments on the case on Friday.

“That was an awful experience for these women … There was an investigation, there has been a conviction, and there’s been a significant change to airport processes in Qatar,” he said.

Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, the women claimed that Qatar Airways’ lawyers did not respond to their attempts to hold dialogue with the airline and told the case has “no merit”.

“Your request that Qatar Airways engages in dialogue and/or mediation regarding the matters raised in the letter is respectfully declined on the basis that a claim against Qatar Airways has no merit,” read a written response from the airline on 1 November.

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