Australian women to sue Qatar over invasive strip-search ordeal

A group of women subjected to invasive gynaecological searches at Doha airport will sue Qatari authorities, seeking redress for an ordeal that sparked global condemnation, their lawyer said on Monday.

Women on 10 Qatar Airways flights from Doha, including 13 Australians, were subjected to the examinations late last year as authorities searched for the mother of a newborn found abandoned in an airport bathroom.

The incident caused outrage, and fuelled concerns about Qatar’s treatment of women.

Damian Sturzaker, from Sydney-based firm Marque Lawyers, said seven affected passengers now plan 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 said.

Sturzaker said the women were seeking a formal apology, compensation, and protection for future passengers transiting through the airport.

Qatar is an ultra-conservative Muslim monarchy, where sex and childbirth outside marriage are punishable by jail.

Ahead of the World Cup, the country has struggled to reassure critics that its promises on women’s rights, labour relations and democracy are credible.

Facing potentially devastating commercial and reputational damage after the incident, Qatar vowed to guarantee the future “safety and security” of passengers.

The country’s prime minister also issued an apology, while an airport police officer who oversaw the searches was reportedly convicted.

But Sturzaker said the women had not been made aware of any improvements to airport procedures and their attempts to seek mediation had been unsuccessful.

They now wanted to highlight their case ahead of the 2022 football World Cup, to ensure other travellers were well-informed before visiting Qatar, he added. The Gulf state is preparing to receive thousands of foreign visitors for the Fifa tournament.

“They should be aware that – whilst there is a guise of a highly developed, highly modernised airport and national carrier – these events have happened and there’s nothing preventing them from happening again,” he said.

Qatar’s embassy in Canberra and Qatar Airways did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Sturzaker said the lawsuit would be filed in Australia against the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority, Hamad International Airport, Qatar Airways and the country’s government within weeks.

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