Seven Australian women drag Qatar to court over strip-searches at Doha airport

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Seven Australian women who were strip-searched and forced to undergo invasive gynaecological examinations at Doha’s international airport last year are suing the Qatari government, their lawyer has said.

Damian Sturzaker, from the Sydney-based Marque Lawyers, said on Monday that his clients were seeking compensation “for the fact that they were effected at the time and continue to suffer”.

The women were searched after authorities at Doha airport discovered a newborn “concealed in a plastic bag and buried under garbage” in early October 2020.

Upon the discovery, authorities delayed the Qatar Airways flight to Sidney that the women were travelling on and reportedly forced them to undergo invasive examinations at gunpoint in an ambulance on the airport tarmac.

At the time, Australia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs called the searches “grossly disturbing, offensive [and] concerning”, adding, “it’s not something that I’ve ever heard of occurring in my life, in any context”.

Several of the women reported the incident in public after landing in Sydney, prompting howls of protest from the Australian government and other nations.

At the time, Qatar’s Prime Minister Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz al-Thani tweeted an apology, saying: “We regret the unacceptable treatment of the female passengers… What took place does not reflect Qatar’s laws or values.”

Qatar insists those responsible for the violations have been referred to prosecutors, but a lawyer for the women says only a single airport official has been reprimanded in the form of a six-month suspended prison sentence.

‘Wall of silence’

Despite efforts to engage with the Qatari authorities, Sturzaker told the BBC they had been “met with a wall of silence”.

The alleged victims want a formal apology from Qatar and the airport to implement procedures to make sure such incidents do not happen again, he added.

The women, aged from their early 30s to late 50s, have been plagued by the trauma, with one having recurring nightmares, Sturzaker said.

One of the complainants, who declined to be named, told the BBC that she was “subjected to the most horrifically invasive physical exam”.

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