Australian women lose bid to sue Qatar Airways over 2020 strip searches

Judge dismisses case because women not searched on the aircraft, says they could seek damages from the airport operator.

qatar airways
The Federal Court of Australia dismisses the case against Qatar Airways [File: Michael Probst/AP Photo]

A group of Australian women who were strip-searched at Doha’s main international airport have lost a legal bid against Qatar Airways.

In early October 2020, the female passengers were ordered to disembark their flight to Sydney and subjected to gynaecological examinations to check whether they had given birth.

The body searches were part of an investigation into the whereabouts of the mother of a newborn baby who was found abandoned in a plastic bag in a bin at a toilet in one of the terminals of Hamad International Airport.

The women later launched legal action seeking damages over alleged “unlawful physical contact”, false imprisonment and mental health impacts.

An Australian court on Thursday dismissed the case because the women were not searched on board the aircraft, citing a well-worn international convention covering airline liability.

Federal Court Justice John Halley indicated they could instead amend the claim to seek damages from the operator of the airport.

In September last year, Australia’s government cited the “invasive” examinations as a reason to block Qatar Airways from operating more flights into the country.

The airline said Australia’s decision was “very unfair”.

Following the incident, Qatar’s then-Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, who since became the prime minister, had expressed his “deepest sympathies with the women impacted by the search at the airport” and renewed the Gulf state’s apology to them.

“The incident is considered a violation of Qatar’s laws and values,” he said at the time, adding that the officials involved had been referred to the public prosecutor.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies