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Australia: Court nixes Qatar Airways strip-search suit

April 11, 2024

Some Australian women have lost a bid to sue the airline over invasive examinations carried out at Doha Airport in 2020. But a court ruled they could still seek damages from the airport over the incident.

 A Qatar Airways plane on the tarmac at an airport in Beijing
Qatar Airways, based in Doha, is one of the largest carriers in the Middle East Image: Wang Zicheng/HPIC/dpa/picture alliance

An Australian court ruled on Thursday that an intended suit against Qatar Airways by a group of women who were subjected to invasive gynecological examinations after being ordered off a plane at Doha Airport in 2020 is not justified under international airline liability protocols.

Federal Court Justice John Halley rejected the case because the women were not searched on board the aircraft but indicated that they could amend the claim to seek compensation from the airport operator.

Why are the women seeking damages?

The Australian women were among hundreds of other women removed by force from airliners in Doha on October 2, 2020, when authorities were looking for the mother of a newborn baby left abandoned in a trash can in the airport.

The women say they were assaulted and falsely imprisoned throughout the ordeal.

The incident caused international outrage, particularly in view of the fact that the Gulf state was preparing to take in thousands of foreign visitors for the 2022 football World Cup.

What could happen now?

While ruling that Qatar Airways and the Qatar Civil Aviation Authorities could not be the target of the suit, the judge said that the women's case against the Qatar Company for Airports Operation and Management (MATAR), the airport's operator, could continue. MATAR is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Qatar Airways.

The women's lawyer, Damian Sturzaker, said in a statement his clients were considering an appeal.

"We note, however, that the claims against the airport operator, MATAR remain on foot. Our clients' resolve to continue to agitate their claims remains undiminished," Sturzaker said.

The case is back in court on May 10.

The Australian government has said that the incident contributed to a decision last June to refuse Qatar Airways permission to operate more flights into Australia.  

Qatar Airways Senior Vice President Matt Raos told an Australian Senate inquiry in September that such examinations of passengers would never be repeated.

"We've had nothing like it previously in our history and we're completely committed to ensuring nothing like this ever happens again," Raos told the committee.

tj/wd (AP, AFP)