The Australian Federal Government has rejected Qatar Airway’s bid to double its flight capacity to Australia, with the notable factor in this decision being the allegedly unlawful and invasive strip search of several female passengers at Doha Airport in 2020.
In October 2020, thirteen Australian women were marched at gunpoint by Qatari authorities at Hamad International Airport in Doha. They were subjected to strip searches and gynaecological examinations as authorities searched for the mother of an abandoned baby discovered in an airport restroom.
When questioned about whether this incident influenced the decision to reject Qatar Airway’s bid, Transport Minister Catherine King informed reporters that the incident provided context for her decision.
“I made this decision in the national interest, and there is no single factor that I will point to as the sole determinant of my decision,” she said.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong had a conversation with the Prime Minister of Qatar on Sept. 4, addressing various bilateral matters, including the Hamad Airport incident.
“That’s something I spoke about in Opposition. Obviously, it was a very distressing event for the women,” Senator Wong said, hinting at the incident’s relevance to the decision to block Qatar’s bid.
However, the opposition leader Peter Dutton criticised Ms. King and the government on 2GB radio on Sept. 7, suggesting that the government had not provided a straightforward response to the matter.
“This is now the eighth position that the minister has taken, and she just keeps changing her story. I don’t know what is fact and what is fiction,” Mr. Dutton said.
Senate Inquiry to Investigate Decision to Block Flights
The decision to reject Qatar Airway’s proposed additional 21 flights is now under scrutiny via a parliamentary inquiry.
This investigation will evaluate the government’s handling of “any submissions received over the last year regarding the potential expansion of services at Australia’s major airports,” potentially broadening its focus beyond the Qatar Airways incident.
The inquiry will also examine Qantas’s opposition to Qatar Airway’s proposal to increase flights to Australia. It will assess whether the government prioritised Qantas’s demands when reviewing Qatar’s bid.
2020 Hamad International Airport Incident
In October 2020, a group of thirteen Australian women travelling through Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar, were subjected to a highly controversial and invasive search.
The incident occurred after a newborn baby was discovered abandoned in a restroom at the airport. Qatari authorities initiated a search for the mother of the baby and in the process, reportedly escorted the Australian women off a flight and subjected them to medical examinations. These examinations involved the women being asked to remove their underwear, which raised significant concerns about human rights violations and privacy breaches.
The incident sparked outrage and condemnation from the Australian government and the international community.
It also led to legal action being taken by some of the affected women to seek accountability and justice for what they considered a traumatic and invasive experience. The case highlighted the need for transparency and accountability in such situations to ensure the protection of passenger’s rights and dignity.
Qatar Airlines Response to the Incident
Qatar Airways, the national airline of Qatar, responded to the incident involving the Australian women by expressing regret and launching an internal investigation into the matter. The airline stated that it was cooperating with Qatari authorities and pledged to provide full support to the affected passengers.
Additionally, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker issued an apology to the women and condemned the incident, calling it a “gross violation” of their rights. He assured that the airline would take all necessary measures to prevent such incidents from happening in the future.
The incident prompted a broader discussion about airport security procedures and passenger rights, leading to calls for more transparency and accountability in situations like this to protect the privacy and dignity of travellers.