Qatar finally apologises for genital examination incident

written by Adam Thorn | October 28, 2020
Qatar Airways Airbus A380 A7-APE at Sydney Airport. (Qatar Airways)
Qatar Airways Airbus A380 A7-APE at Sydney Airport. (Qatar Airways)

The state of Qatar has finally apologised for any “distress or infringement” felt by women forced to undergo a genital examination at Doha’s Hamad Airport.

However, the statement comes three days after the story was revealed publicly and almost one month after the incident itself occurred on 2 October.

Earlier this week, it emerged that 13 Australian women on board Qatar Airways flight QR908 from Doha to Sydney were asked to leave the plane to be escorted to ambulances for the invasive check, apparently carried out because staff found a premature baby abandoned in a bathroom.

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On Wednesday, Australia’s Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, said that women from as many as 10 different aircraft were checked, and five women from other nationalities were also asked to leave the plane – though it’s not clear if all were invasively searched.

The Qatari government said in a statement the baby was rescued from “what appeared to be a shocking and appalling attempt to kill her”.

“This was the first instance of an abandoned infant being discovered in such a condition at HIA [Hamad Airport] – this egregious and life-threatening violation of the law triggered an immediate search for the parents, including on flights in the vicinity of where the newborn was found,” read the statement.

“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 traveller caused by this action.

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“His Excellency Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al Thani the Prime Minister and Minister of Interior of the State of Qatar has directed that a comprehensive, transparent investigation into the incident be conducted.

“The results of the investigation will be shared with our international partners. The State of Qatar remains committed to ensuring the safety, security and comfort of all travelers transiting through the country.”

The state of Qatar effectively owns both Hamad Airport and the flag carrier, Qatar Airways. Before the statement, Minister Payne reiterated that she thought the treatment was “offensive” and “grossly inappropriate” to a parliamentary hearing.

She said the Qatari government had planned to hand her a report on the incident “very soon”, while Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary Frances Adamson added the Qatari government’s reaction “matches our own in terms of level of distress and abhorrence and a deep questioning of how this can have happened”.

On Monday, one of the Australian women searched spoke anonymously to the ABC and said authorities locked the ambulance door before telling her to undress.

“When I got in there, and there was a lady with a mask on and then the authorities closed the ambulance behind me and locked it,” she said. “They never explained anything.

“She told me to pull my pants down and that I needed to examine my vagina. 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 continued that she was eventually let out of the ambulance and ran over to the other girls but added there was “nowhere for me to run”. She eventually removed her clothes and was inspected, and touched, by a female nurse.

“Everyone had gone white and was shaking. I was very scared at that point, I didn’t know what the possibilities were.”

In June, Australian Aviation reported how Qatar Airways’ share of passengers travelling to and from Australia leapt from just 3 per cent to 44.5 per cent in April.

The jump meant the carrier, owned by the namesake state, was by far the biggest in terms of passengers carried – with previous number one Qantas slumping from 17.9 per cent to just 2.9 per cent.

Qantas is no longer flying commercial international flights other than specific government-supplemented flights, meaning many Australians attempting to return home will have little option but to fly with Qatar Airways and travel through Hamad.
The airline, which is owned by the state of Qatar, has made much of its decision to keep flying during the pandemic, launching a huge PR offensive using the slogan ‘Taking You Home’.

24 Comments

  • Graham Haxell

    says:

    This is just not good enough! I do not sense any regret or remorse on the part of the Qatari authorities – their ambassador should be summoned to the office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and given a real dressing down!

  • John G

    says:

    It is unfair to blame Qatar Airways, as in previous comments, who would have their departure delayed by local law enforcement agency and had to follow their instructions. The same as Qantas would have to follow Federal Police instructions. Many of the Qatar Airways pilots are ex pats who are not going to argue with the local police. Qatar Airways is one of the top airlines in the world and I have no hesitation flying with them as I have done in the past.

  • Charles James

    says:

    The gross invasion of privacy of the Australian women by the agents of the Qatari government must be compensated. In addition, if options exist, Qatar and Qatar Airways should be boycotted by all Australians. Once their revenue collapses, they may decide to act in a civilized manner for any future instances.

  • Jack Brown

    says:

    Exactly. This is the very common Clayton’s apology. Qatar made the decision that to achieve its intent of finding the mother of the abandoned baby it was legitimate to sexually assault the women on the flight, and presumably hundreds of others. This decision is what needs to be acknowledged as abhorrent and will never be repeated. Instead they leave open the possibility that they will do the same again in similar circunstances. I always avoided any of the ME airlines knowing this sort of attitude prevailed there.

  • Corigin

    says:

    I don’t think dressing down an ambassador representing the State of Qatar will achieve anything.

    Having lived (and currently living) as an expat in many countries (including the Middle East), one thing is for certain; you are “visitor”, not a “guest”.

    When “they” say jump, your response is, “How high?”; you have no negotiation and certainly no vehemently denial to an order will change anyone’s mind. This is a case of “wrong place at the wrong time”.

  • brenton webb

    says:

    Boycott the air line

  • Max

    says:

    It was an attempted murder investigation hence the situation as very serious. Alternatively they could / should have taken all of the suspects off the plane and held them in a secure facility / accommodation of and go through an interview process that would have taken several days, though more appropriate.

  • Tony Griggs

    says:

    Pathetic response from both the Australian Foreign Minister & the Qatari’s. This is state sanctioned sexual assault. There needs to be a firmer response from both sides. People should be legally held accountable.

  • Thomm

    says:

    It’s typical of how Qatar in general treats woman like they are shit under their feet.

  • Paul Robson

    says:

    Several unanswered questions, were only Australian women and flights to Australia targeted?
    If so why?
    If the allegations are correct, Australia should suspend Qatar’s traffic rights to Australia.
    No amount of diplomatic tit for tat will have any effect on Qatari Authorities, losing traffic rights for a month will!

  • Ashley

    says:

    Whilst this situation is not exactly desirable, the actual subject of outrage here is that a newborn baby was left to die in a rubbish bin.

    If a woman was found violently raped in the same toilet, I’d hardly feel happy with the thought of being detained and DNA tested, or strip searched, but I’d understand, and I wouldn’t think I was the principal victim here.

    Afterall, it’s an extremely time limited scenario, and once the passengers have left Qatar, they are gone forever, so Qatar would have no means of extradition or recourse.

    The alternative wouly have been to detain the women and DNA test them, and compare their generics to the baby. But that would take a day or so.

  • Nicholas

    says:

    I think people need to take a hex and have a lie down.

    Some idiot screwed up and made a disastrous decision though with the best reasons in mind.

    But folks let’s not turn this into WW3 and start impugning the poor state of Qatar.

  • Nicholas

    says:

    Folks, a Bex and a good lie down seem in order here.

    Dreadful decision by someone in a different culture and they got it wrong though they had a reason (not a good one) at the time.

    Let’s not make this WW3 and get hysterical and start bashing the Qatari authorities either. They didn’t do this. Because the state owns the Airline and the Airport that doesn’t make them criminals as I’ve seen written elsewhere.

  • Peter Brown

    says:

    QR is just “practicing” what they preach. QR should be banned by every civilized Western country. The low life individual who runs QR should be sent back to the sub continent from whenst he came. SCUM!!!!

  • scatty

    says:

    Its not really an apology and it’ll happen again anytime they chose to… Australia needs to accept that our civilized way of life, often outraged at seemingly nothing in particular, is not the way the rest of the world lives, and Aussies need to learn to deal with it. Out Government is dependent on the rest of the world, we don’t manufacture things that we need and we either need to shut up and accept our place or become more self sufficient and get back to work and do things, talk less, and be like an adult country.. Build nuclear power, ships and submarines and join with the leaders…

  • karen niedz

    says:

    ‘Regret’ is NOT an apology. Are any journalists working there literate? And by literate, I mean fluent in the use of the English language? Please let me know if there is an apology issued though, perhaps I missed it when I skim-read the article.

    • JB

      says:

      JB

      I shall never fly Qatar
      Inexcusable behaviour, removing women from an aircraft without explanation, imposing a full internal examination.
      One of the women was a teenager
      An assault no male could possibly comprehend

  • karen niedz

    says:

    And for all the people who read ‘genital examination’, that description makes it sound line they just had a look at the vagina. In fact, they had a cervical exam, which is incredibly invasive. Akin to a man having someone put their hand inside their rectal cavity and move it around. Yes of course there are heaps of jokes that follow that description, but I’ve seen so many men (and some women) underestimate the invasion that this is, and would like them to imagine being taken off an airplane, with nobody speaking to them or telling them what’s happening, and then being forced into the back of a van, have the door locked, and someone you don’t know put their entire fist into their rectal cavity. I really feel like many people reading this headline don’t really understand it. The primary thing that makes it sexual assault instead of a medical examination, is that they were NEVER TOLD what was happening and why. That is where their legal standing becomes unstable. If they had even explained to the women what was to happen they may have better protected themselves legally.

  • Marum

    says:

    Crocodile Tears….Marum

  • John G

    says:

    Referring to Thomm’s comment of Oct 29. My daughter and her children lived in Doha for two years. She felt much safer there then in Australia. She felt comfortable going out in the cool evening and jog. There is security everywhere and crime is just not tolerated. Once my two teen age daughters felt intimidated in one of the major shopping malls and reported it to a security guard. The guard immediately set out to apprehend the boys and dealt with them. Foreign countries, especially Islamic countries have different cultural standards then Australia and Western countries. We visited our daughter over Christmas and the major malls and shops were all decorated with Christmas theme. Not like in Australia where we have to apologize for celebrating Christmas in case we offend some of our Muslim immigrants. Qatar, unlike Saudi, is very tolerant of other cultures, just don’t break the local law. The whole incident was probably the result of an overzealous official.

  • Linda Weaving

    says:

    It’s sexual assault and that so-called apology is nothing of the kind. Those poor women! They could be scarred for life!
    As for those who say it’s justifiable because they were trying to catch someone responsible for dumping a newborn baby I say this: would you say it was justafiable if they took men off the plane & bashed them to try and get an admission of guilt instead of sexually assaulting women? Would it be ok for police trying to find a suspect to pick random people off the street and assault them? If they knew the culprit was black, would it be ok for them to round up all the black people in the community and assault them?

  • Cris

    says:

    We all have choices. The Qatar officials made theirs. Its our turn now. You’ve seen what can happen. Nothing to do with you or what you do or did but you can be forcibly detained, strip searched, sexually assulted and all without explanation or consent. If you want to risk that sort of treatment its up to you now.

  • Ronald Spencer

    says:

    And not one comment on the health of the baby that was dumped by a woman

  • Chris Kempis

    says:

    There is Ronald; by you. What’s your point? The article is about whether a genital examination was deemed the appropriate action to thirteen Australian citizens without any of them given an explanation to what was happening and why. What is there to comment on the health of the baby when there is no further information provided other than it was found abandoned in a bathroom? We don’t know whether the baby has survived, whether it is in ICU, or whether it is saved.

  • Lottie Lucas

    says:

    Has anyone even thought about the mother? What if she was fleeing for her life after being raped.? They know ‘his’ name… they are now trying to get her back for ‘punishment’! SHAME as the Hamad Airport is a wonder of modern technology and passenger comfort..BUT in the shadows lurks a backward and unacceptable care of women in today’s society. Apparently abandoned babies are common place…anyone asking why??? EVERY WOMAN should boycott travel via Qatar including their airline, I will not be visiting again!

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