Female passengers flying from Qatar were subjected to invasive searches after a premature baby was found abandoned in an airport bathroom, according to media reports confirmed by AFP.
Security escorted an undisclosed number of women from aircraft on the tarmac at Doha’s international airport to ambulances, where they were examined for signs they had recently given birth.
“(Officials) were forcing women to undergo invasive body searches - basically forced Pap smears,” a source in Doha briefed on the incident told AFP, referring to an internal examination of the cervix.
The incident, first reported by Australia’s Seven Network broadcaster, happened on October 2 and came to light after a number of affected Australian passengers spoke out.
Seven News said the baby had died but sources in Doha could not confirm whether this was the case.
One of the flights involved, Qatar Airways’ October 2 flight QR908 to Sydney, was four hours late departing Doha as a result, according to specialized air traffic website Flightradar24.
Women from several other countries and flights are understood to have been affected, but the extent of the incident is not yet known.
Seven News said an investigation was underway.
Qatar’s foreign minister is expected to write to his Australian counterpart about the incident this week.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told Seven News in a statement that “we have formally registered our serious concerns regarding the incident with Qatari authorities.”
“(We) have been assured that detailed and transparent information on the event will be provided soon,” it said.
Qatar Airways did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Qatar practices a strict form of Islamic law, with stiff penalties applied to women who fall pregnant or bear children outside of marriage.
The novel coronavirus pandemic has grounded many airlines’ long-haul operations, including those of Australia’s flag-carrier Qantas, while Qatar Airways has continued to fly many of its routes despite the downturn in demand.