Five women have formally begun their legal case against both Qatar and its national carrier for their role in an incident that saw passengers at Doha airport subjected to non-consensual genital examinations.
The filing to the Federal Court includes claims that three of the women were subject to “intimate gynaecological examinations” – one of whom was accompanied by her five-month-old son.
The women have also set up a new crowdfunding page that states they believe the Australian government has done “little to advance our cause”.
In October 2020, 13 Australian women on board a Qatar Airways flight from Doha to Sydney were asked to leave their aircraft before being escorted to ambulances for genital checks, supposedly carried out as staff tried to find the mother of a baby abandoned at the airport.
Many of them now claim to have been left traumatised and received no personal apology or compensation.
The case is being brought against both the airline and the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority (QCAA), which is overseen by the state of Qatar itself.
The Statement of Claim filed to the NSW Registry of the Federal Court for the first time details the horrific abuse the women claim to have suffered.
Four of the five claimants were personally subjected to the invasive checks, while a fifth was ordered off the aircraft by armed staff despite being 73 at the time and legally blind.
“Each of the Applicants has suffered and/or continues to suffer from anxiety, depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD), and/or other psychological effects,” read the claim.
Legal firm Marque Lawyers, which is overseeing the claim, said in a statement to Australian Aviation, “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.
“Marque is proud to represent the group”.
The claim suggests that Qatar Airways is liable under the Montreal Convention.
Aside from the Australian passengers, a further five women from other countries, including the UK and France, were also asked to leave the plane bound for Sydney.
It was later confirmed that women from as many as 10 other flights were also subjected to the ordeal.
Early reports of the incident suggest the women involved were ”distraught” and “couldn’t believe what had happened”, as they were pulled from their long-delayed flights and subject to intimate examinations, with no explanation.
Marise Payne, then-Australian Foreign Affairs Minister, said at the time that the incident was “a grossly, grossly disturbing, offensive, concerning set of events”.
One of the women searched spoke anonymously to the ABC and said authorities locked the ambulance door before telling her to undress.
“When I got in there, and there was a lady with a mask on and then the authorities closed the ambulance behind me and locked it,” she said. “They never explained anything.
“She told me to pull my pants down and that I needed to examine my vagina. I said ‘I’m not doing that’ and she did not explain anything to me. She just kept saying, ‘We need to see it, we need to see it’.”
The woman continued that she was eventually let out of the ambulance and ran over to the other girls but added there was “nowhere for me to run”. She eventually removed her clothes and was inspected, and touched, by a female nurse.
“Everyone had gone white and was shaking. I was very scared at that point, I didn’t know what the possibilities were.”
The women taking legal action have also set up a crowdfunding page to help cover some of the cost, which you can contribute to here.
It states the Australian government has done “little to advance our cause”.
“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,” it says.
“We have also sent letters to Anthony Albanese (as former Leader of the Opposition), Penny Wong and Tanya Plibersek, requesting that the Australian Government reveal the supposed changes at Doha Airport and place pressure on the Qatari Government to offer personal apologies.
“We are still waiting to receive meaningful, personal apologies, and are unaware of the procedures that have been put in place.
“In the absence of being able to engage in meaningful dialogue with Qatar Airways and the QCAA, we have no option but to pursue our legal rights against both organisations in the Federal Court of Australia.
“We are pursuing legal action as an absolute final resort, in the hope that it will stop women who travel through Qatar from being subjected to a similar kind of treatment in the future and ensure the safety of all travellers.
“We are seeking compensation for the harm that the incident has caused, as well as declarations from the Court that Qatar Airways and QCAA breached their duties of care to us.”