In what is being described as a “David and Goliath battle,” Qatar Airways and Qatar’s aviation authority are being sued in an Australian Federal Court by a group of women who claimed they were subjected to physical examinations including invasive and non-consensual vaginal examinations at Qatar’s Doha Airport in October 2020.
“After two years of trying to sit down with the State of Qatar and resolve the matter amicably, this group of teachers, nurses, and artists were left with no alternative but to take on this David and Goliath battle,” Damian Sturzaker of Marquis Lawyers told Lawyers Weekly and Australia Aviation in a joint interview. Marquis Lawyers is representing the five women in their suit which was filed in the New South Wales Registry of the Federal Court in Australia.
The five were among 13 women flying from Doha to Sydney, Australia, on Qatar Airways flight QR908 on October 2, 2020, who were escorted without explanation from the plane. Four of the women party to the suit said they were then locked in an ambulance with a masked woman who conducted non-consensual vaginal examinations. One female was subjected to the examination despite being 52 years old, and another was forced to leave her five-month-old baby on the plane. The fifth woman directed off the plane was 73 years old and legally blind at the time of the incident, although she was not subjected to the vaginal examination.
The women claim they were not provided with an explanation for the examinations. Airport officials later said in a statement reported by Australian ABC News that authorities had found a premature newborn infant in one of the terminal’s bathrooms and were concerned “about the health and welfare” of the mother. Women from as many as 10 other flights were also escorted from their planes and possibly subjected to similar examinations.
The lawsuit claims the Australian government “has done little to advance our cause” other than sending letters and making statements.
“Under questioning on 12 November 2021, the then Prime Minister Scott Morrison claimed that procedures at Doha Airport have changed, but the government refused to provide any details,” the suit claims.
The women are seeking a declaration of violations of the applicable international law as well as unspecified compensatory and exemplary (or punitive) damages for negligence, assault, battery, and false imprisonment.
Out Traveler has reached out to Qatar Airways shortly before publishing, and will update this article with any comments or statements.