by SIMON KENT
The Australian government on Monday said it is “deeply concerned” at the “offensive, grossly inappropriate treatment” of female passengers on a Qatar Airways flight bound for Sydney, who were ordered to disembark in Doha before being subjected to a forced strip search and invasive medical examination.
ABC News Australia reports two passengers from QR908 both told the outlet they had no idea what was happening when all women on the plane were ordered off and told to assemble on the tarmac after a three-hour delay on October 2.
The two women wanted to remain anonymous but confirmed the events took place.
One recounted what happened after she left the airplane’s gangway and entered an ambulance parked alongside.
“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 said she tried to get out of the ambulance and the authorities on the other side opened the door before forcing her back.
The victim said she took her clothes off and was inspected, and touched, by the female nurse. Up to 12 other female passengers were subjected to the same treatment.
A source in Doha briefed on the incident told the AFP news service officials “were forcing women to undergo invasive body searches — basically forced Pap smears,” an internal examination of the cervix.
Passenger Wolfgang Babeck told AFP women returned to the plane in a “shell-shocked” state, having been told to remove clothing from the lower half of their bodies for an examination by a female doctor.
“All of them were upset, some were angry, one was crying, but basically nobody could believe what happened,” the commercial lawyer said, adding he thought the incident could be “a violation of international law”.
On Monday morning Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne’s said the Australian government was “deeply concerned at the unacceptable treatment of some female passengers on a recent Qatar Airways flight at Doha Airport”.
Payne told reporters the matter was “a grossly, grossly disturbing, offensive, concerning set of events”, which had been reported to the Australian federal police.
The incident occurred earlier this month after a premature newborn was found abandoned in a terminal bathroom at Hamad International Airport in the Qatari capital, according to accounts provided to the Australian authorities.
A spokesperson for the airport confirmed the involuntary vaginal examinations, adding: “Medical professionals expressed concern to officials about the health and welfare of a mother who had just given birth and requested she be located prior to departing H.I.A.
“Individuals who had access to the specific area of the airport where the newborn infant was found were asked to assist in the query.”
The incident will shine a light on Qatar’s reputation as it prepares to host tens of thousands of foreign visitors for the 2022 football world cup.