Qatar says it has referred officials at its international airport to prosecutors for possible charges after Australian women aboard Qatar Airways flights faced forced vaginal examinations after workers found an abandoned baby.
The Australian government has expressed outrage and union workers have threatened not to service Qatar Airways aircraft in Sydney over the October 2 incident.
Australia represents a crucial route for Qatar Airways, the state-owned long-haul carrier based at Hamad International Airport in Doha.
In a statement released tonight, Qatar’s Government Communication Office described the abandoning of the baby as the “attempted murder” of the child.
“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 elaborate or identify who had given the order. It said an investigation by Qatari authorities continued.
The physical examinations of passengers bound for Sydney has triggered outrage in Australia, with the government denouncing 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.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne welcomed the Qatar announcement and apology to the female passengers on the flight, which included 13 Australians.
“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.
“Australian passengers will be reassured that Qatar has established a specialised task force to review procedures and protocols to ensure there is never a repeat of this incident.
“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.
“I look forward to continued cooperation with Qatar as we seek to resolve this incident, and seek updates on progress made by the Public Prosecution Office.”
Ms Payne said diplomats were working towards “a genuine and meaningful resolution in response to this disturbing event”.
“We acknowledge this was a difficult and distressing incident for those women involved. We respect their privacy and will endeavour to provide any support they may need.”
Apology and promise
As the reports came to light this week, the government of Qatar apologised and promised a full investigation to be shared internationally.
It earlier called the discovery of the newborn buried in a plastic bag under trash “an egregious and life-threatening” act.
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.
The revelation that women on a total of 10 flights in Doha earlier this month were subjected to invasive vaginal exams has spiralled into a public relations catastrophe for Qatar, a tiny oil-rich state on the Arabian Peninsula and host nation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.