Qatar apologizes after women strip-searched at airport before flight to Australia
The Qatari government has apologized after authorities forcibly examined female passengers before a recent Qatar Airways flight, in a disturbing attempt to identify if any of the women had given birth to a newborn baby abandoned at Hamad International Airport.
On Oct. 2, Sydney-bound flight 908 was delayed when a group of women were ordered to exit the plane, subjected to a “strip search,” and forced to receive medical examinations in an ambulance parked on the tarmac, after the premature baby was found at the Doha airport.
Australian authorities slammed the incident as “grossly disturbing, offensive, [and] concerning” and informed federal police. Under pressure after the report came to light, Qatar’s Government Communications Office apologized on Wednesday morning.
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The communications office revealed that the baby had been found “concealed in a plastic bag and buried under garbage” at the airport, describing the desertion as an “egregious and life-threatening violation of the law.” As of Monday, the unidentified baby was said to remain in the care of medical and social workers.
According to a statement, officials searched for the infant’s parents on flights in the vicinity of where the baby was found; the Associated Press reports that women on 10 flights were subjected to the searches at the time.
“While the aim of the urgently decided search was to prevent the perpetrators of the horrible crime from escaping, the state of Qatar regrets any distress or infringement on the personal freedoms of any traveler caused by this action,” Qatari leaders said, disclosing that updates in the investigation would be shared internationally.
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The Arab country gave no further explanation of how authorities decided to perform invasive vaginal examinations on the female passengers, per the outlet. Human rights activists have likened such acts under duress as equivalent to sexual assault.
“It was appalling,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said of the news. “As a father of daughters, I could only shudder at the thought that any woman, Australian or otherwise, would be subjected to that.”
Morrison added that he expected to receive updates from the Qatari government’s investigation “very soon.”
Like much of the Middle East, sex outside of marriage is a criminal act in Qatar. In the past, female migrant workers have hidden pregnancies and tried to travel abroad to give birth, while others have anonymously abandoned their babies to avoid prison.
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A spokesperson for the airline did not immediately return Fox News’ request for comment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.