DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Qatar said Friday it referred officials at its international airport to prosecutors for possible charges after women aboard Qatar Airways flights faced forced vaginal examinations following the discovery of an abandoned baby.
The statement comes as the Australian government has expressed outrage and union workers have threatened not to service Qatar Airways aircraft in Sydney over the Oct. 2 incident. Australia also represents 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 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 and that 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 forced to undergo the exams.
“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 travelers.”
The physical examinations of passengers bound for Sydney and nine other unnamed destinations has triggered outrage in Australia, where 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.
As the reports came to light this week, the government of Qatar apologized 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 criminalized. 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 later revelation that women on a total of 10 flights in Doha earlier this month were subjected to invasive vaginal exams has spiraled into a public relations catastrophe for Qatar, a tiny energy-rich state on the Arabian Peninsula that will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
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