Officials who ordered intrusive medical examinations of female passengers, including 13 Australian women, at Doha airport earlier this month have been referred for prosecution, Qatar says.
In an official statement released on Friday, it said authorities had “violated” procedures.
“The preliminary investigation into the attempted murder of a newborn baby found in a very serious condition at Hamad International Airport (HIA), and the subsequent procedures taken by the authorities at the airport, including examining a number of female passengers, revealed that standard procedures were violated,” the government communication office statement read.
“Those responsible for these violations and illegal actions have been referred to the Public Prosecution Office.”
It continued that specialised task forces will review and identify any potential gaps in the procedures and protocols followed at the airport, “in order to address them and ensure that any violations are avoided in the future”.
His Excellency the Prime Minister and Minister of Interior — Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al Thani — expressed the Government of the State of Qatar’s sincerest apology for what some female travellers went through as a result of the measures.
“This incident is the first of its kind at HIA, which has served tens of millions of passengers without any issues like this before,” he said.
“What took place is wholly inconsistent with Qatar’s culture and values. Qatar is fully committed to the safety and security of all travellers arriving to or transiting through HIA.”
The women were rounded up and subjected to the “invasive” examinations at Doha’s Hamad International Airport on October 2, following the discovery of a premature newborn in a terminal toilet.
The incident, which has been reported to the Australian Federal Police, has been described by Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne as “grossly disturbing and offensive”.
In a statement released on Friday, Ms Payne said she welcomed the Government of Qatar’s acknowledgment of the offensive mistreatment of the female passengers — and the Prime Minister’s apology.
She said the preliminary investigation of Qatar into this incident has shown illegal actions occurred.
“It is an important step that these offences have been referred to the Public Prosecution Office,” she said.
“The statement of the Government of Qatar is consistent with our expectations for contrition, accountability and determination to avoid any repeat of this disturbing episode.”
In a previous statement, Ms Payne said the incident is a “grossly, grossly disturbing, offensive, concerning set of events”.
“It is not something I have ever heard of occurring in my life, in any context, (and) we have made our views very clear to the Qatari authorities on this matter,” she said.
The women were allegedly dragged off a Sydney-bound plane by Qatari authorities and forced to undergo vaginal examinations following the discovery of the abandoned baby at the airport.
In a statement released on Wednesday the government said the baby girl was rescued from “what appeared to be a shocking and appalling attempt to kill her”.
“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,” the statement read.
“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.”
CCTV footage claiming to show the moment the baby was rescued by paramedics has been released.
Doha News published the video on Wednesday after the Qatari government revealed the infant at the centre of a strip-search scandal was found in a plastic bag and “buried under garbage”.
The infant is now safe under medical care in Doha.
Meanwhile, the Transport Workers’ Union is considering a boycott on working on Qatar Airways following the invasive act.
It is considering banning all servicing, cleaning or refuelling of Qatar Airways planes that fly into Sydney Airport.
The union says it has been forced to take on the airline in the past for ignoring the international labour rights of its workforce, and they’re willing to act again on this issue, Nine News reports.
The potential action was due to be put to a vote on Thursday.
The ABC has since spoken to two women who were passengers on Qatar Airways flight 908 to Sydney, which was delayed for hours after the premature baby was found alive in an airport bathroom.
“No-one spoke English or told us what was happening. It was terrifying,” one of the women told the ABC.
“There were 13 of us and we were all made to leave.
“A mother near me had left her sleeping children on the plane. There was an elderly woman who was vision impaired and she had to go too. I’m pretty sure she was searched.”
The other woman told the ABC she was taken to an ambulance and locked inside with a female nurse.
“They never explained anything. She told me to pull my pants down and that I needed to examine my vagina,” she said.
“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’.”
She told the ABC she was forced to take off her clothes and was inspected and touched by the nurse.
“I was panicking. Everyone had gone white and was shaking,” she said.
“I was very scared at that point, I didn’t know what the possibilities were.”
The first woman who spoke to the ABC said while she respected Qatari law she was considering legal action.
“If the other 12 women came forward with a class action, I would definitely be part of that,” she said.