Australia and Britain have welcomed Qatar’s steps to prosecute those responsible for subjecting female travelers to gynecological searches at the Gulf state’s main airport last month.
Women on 10 flights leaving Doha, including at least 13 Australians and two Britons, were forced to submit to the examinations as authorities searched for the mother of a newborn child abandoned in an airport bathroom on October 2.
Facing international condemnation led by a furious Australia, Qatar said on Friday those behind the incident had been referred for prosecution.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she had spoken to her Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani on Friday, who “conveyed his sincere apology” and “provided a strong assurance that Qatar fully recognises the seriousness of these events and will ensure that they are never repeated”.
“We very much welcome the acknowledgement by the government of Qatar in relation to the events that occurred in Hamad airport recently. We welcome the investigative process they have undertaken,” she told reporters Saturday.
Payne said Australia has had “very constructive engagement with Qatar” on the issue and hoped the legal process was “transparent and appropriate and proportionate”.
The incident only came to light after affected Australian passengers spoke out. It has since emerged that citizens from Britain, New Zealand and France were also subjected to the invasive searches.
Qatar said the abandoned baby girl – who survived – was wrapped in plastic and left to die in a bathroom rubbish bin, prompting what sources said was a lockdown of Hamad International Airport.
Women were then led from aircraft to ambulances on the tarmac where they were subject to physical examinations to see if they had recently given birth.
Facing potentially devastating commercial and reputational damage, Qatar has repeatedly vowed to guarantee the future “safety and security” of passengers.
Sex and childbirth outside of marriage are punishable by jail in the ultra-conservative Muslim country, which has struggled to reassure critics that its promises on women’s rights, labour relations and democracy are credible ahead of hosting soccer’s 2022 World Cup.
Britain’s foreign ministry said on Saturday it welcomed Qatar’s announcement that it would charge those behind “illegal” gynaecological searches.
“The preliminary investigation has shown that illegal actions took place, and it is an important step that those responsible have been referred to the public prosecutor’s office,” a spokesman for Britain’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said in a statement.
“This was a deeply distressing incident for the women involved, and it is important we continue to respect their privacy,” the spokesman added, noting that Britain’s Middle East Minister James Cleverly had spoken to his Qatari opposite number about the issue.