Qatar Charges Doha Airport Police Over Strip-Search of Female Passengers

Prosecutors in Qatar have charged airport police officers involved in invasive medical exams that were performed on female passengers after a newborn was found abandoned in a Doha airport bathroom.

Officials also said they had identified the baby’s mother, who had left Qatar for an unidentified country, and that they were seeking to extradite her to face charges of attempted murder.

The actions of the airport security staff first became public in late October when female passengers who had flown from Doha to Sydney, Australia, told of undergoing strip searches and medical exams at Hamad International Airport, in the Qatari capital. Women from at least 10 flights were subjected to the searches, which took place on Oct. 2.

Women said that they had been pulled off their plane, directed to ambulances on the tarmac and ordered to lie down on a table and remove their underwear. An Australian nurse told The New York Times that she had not given her consent, adding, “There was no choice in any of it.”

The episode sparked global outrage, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia calling the treatment of the women “appalling” and human rights groups saying that the searches could constitute sexual assault.

The Australian authorities later confirmed that 18 women from Qatar Airways Flight QR908, including 13 Australians, had been searched, and that a total of 10 flights had been targeted by Qatari officials.

The Qatar government subsequently expressed “regrets” over “any distress or infringement on the personal freedoms of any traveler,” but defended the actions of the airport security officers. The government said the police had been trying to find the mother of the abandoned baby girl, who had been thrown into the trash in an airport bathroom.

Qatar’s public prosecutions office said in a statement released on Monday through the state-run Qatar News Agency on Monday that an undisclosed number of police officers involved in the searches had “violated laws.”

“Airport security performed its legal duty when searching for the perpetrator. However, some employees violated the procedures, summoning female medical staff at the airport to conduct external examination of female passengers, prior to the passengers being allowed to depart for their destination,” the statement said.

But prosecutors said the officers had been unaware that their actions were unlawful. They added that some officers had “acted unilaterally” and had taken actions while “thinking that what they had done was within the law.” The officers were not named.

Prosecutors said they had identified the baby’s mother and father through DNA testing. The parents, who were not named, are nationals from an Asian country, the prosecutors said.

According to Qatari officials, the father said the mother had sent him a photo of the baby and a message saying she had “thrown the infant she had given birth to and fled to her country.” It’s unclear whether the father was involved.

The authorities did not say when the woman left Qatar or if she had been among those searched on flights leaving the Doha airport on Oct. 2. The statement said only that prosecutors were “taking the appropriate legal action within the international judicial cooperation to arrest the fugitive convict.”

Sex, pregnancy and childbirth outside marriage are criminalized in Qatar, with women accused of such crimes facing arrest and imprisonment.

The airport officials could face up to three years in prison if convicted; the mother could face up to 15 years for what prosecutors described as a “heinous crime.”

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