Qatar says it has referred officials at its international airport to prosecutors for possible charges after women abroad Qatar Airways flights were forced to undergo vaginal examinations after workers found an abandoned baby.
The statement came after the Australian government expressed outrage and union workers threatened not to service Qatar Airways aircraft in Sydney over the October 2 incident.
Australia is a crucial route for Qatar Airways, the state-owned long-haul carrier based at Hamad International Airport in Doha.
In a statement, Qatar’s Government Communication Office described the abandoning of the baby as an “attempted murder”.
Government Communication Office Statement on the preliminary findings of the Hamad International Airport investigation.https://t.co/HddB3RPhV3— Ù ÙØªØ¨ Ø§ÙØ§ØªØµØ§Ù Ø§ÙØÙÙÙ Ù (@GCOQatar) October 30, 2020
“The subsequent procedures taken by the authorities at the airport, including examining a number of female passengers, revealed that standard procedures were violated,” the statement said.
“Those responsible for these violations and illegal actions have been referred to the Public Prosecution Office.”
The statement did not identify who had given the order to conduct the exams. It said an investigation by Qatari authorities continued and Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al Thani, the country’s prime minister and interior minister, offered his country’s “sincerest apology” to the women.
“What took place is wholly inconsistent with Qatar’s culture and values,” the statement said. “Qatar is fully committed to the safety and security of all travellers.”
Sheikh Khalid later wrote on Twitter: “I assure you that we will hold those responsible for these acts to account.”
The physical examinations of passengers bound for Sydney and nine other unnamed destinations triggered outrage in Australia.
The government denounced the searches as inappropriate and beyond circumstances in which the women could give free and informed consent. Rights activists say such exams conducted under duress amount to sexual assault.
Australian foreign affairs minister Marise Payne on Friday described Qatar’s actions after the incident as “consistent with our expectations for contrition, accountability and determination to avoid any repeat of this disturbing episode”.
“The preliminary investigation of Qatar into this incident has shown illegal actions occurred,” she said in a statement.
“It is an important step that these offences have been referred to the Public Prosecution Office.”
In Qatar, like much of the Middle East, sex and childbirth outside of marriage are criminalised. Migrant workers in the past have hidden pregnancies and tried to travel abroad to give birth, and others have abandoned their babies anonymously to avoid imprisonment.
Qatar, a small, energy-rich state on the Arabian Peninsula, will host the 2022 Fifa World Cup.