Last October, a newborn baby was found in a Qatar airport bathroom, prompting a search for the mother.
Multiple women said they were taken off their planes and given nonconsensual invasive gynecological searches.
One of those women told Insider of the experience and said she relives the trauma daily.
On October 2, 2020, Mandy was sitting on a plane in Doha, Qatar, to Jakarta when she was asked to get off, escorted by armed guards into an ambulance on the tarmac, and given an invasive gynecological search against her will — all without being told what was happening.
She’s now one of multiple women preparing to take legal action against Qatar Airways, Doha’s Hamad International Airport, and the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority.
Mandy is British, while the other women are Australians who were on a flight from Doha to Sydney. Mandy requested her last name remain private, but it is known and verified by Insider.
Qatar has acknowledged multiple women were examined, saying it was because authorities discovered a newborn baby in the airport’s bathroom and wanted to find the mother.
“It was horrifying and I relive that time,” Mandy, 51, told Insider. “I relive it daily.”
Qatar Airways directed Insider’s request for comment to Qatar’s government. The government, airport, and aviation authority did not respond to Insider.
A spokesperson for the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office told Insider it supported two British women after the incident, adding: “We formally expressed our concern with the Qatari authorities and Qatar Airways, and sought assurances that it would be thoroughly investigated and measures would be put in place to prevent an incident like this happening again.”
Mandy had flown from London and was transiting in Doha to ultimately reach Bali, Indonesia, she said.
She said she was sitting on the plane and noticed it seemed to be taking off late. Then, she said, everyone on board was told to get off.
The passengers were brought to the gate and met by “armed police and officials,” she said.
They waited, and then a few women from the group were selected, Mandy said.
“I was approached, which was quite intimidating. It felt quite threatening at that point. I was approached by what I believed to be a female Qatari police officer who sort of picked me and two or three other women, and were demanded to follow her.”
Mandy said she was then taken in an elevator — where the woman “didn’t take her eyes off of me — and then brought to the tarmac and met by more armed police.
She was taken into an ambulance, where a female nurse was waiting, she said.
“She ordered me to lie down on the bed, which I did. Then, she asked me to undress from the waist down.”
“I was so shocked,” Mandy said of the nurse’s request.
“She checked my genital area and checked to see whether or not that I had actually given birth. It was one of those sort of fight-or-flight situations.”
“I always believed I would be one of those people that would fight because I sort of consider myself as pretty strong, but … I was frozen,” she said.
At this point, Mandy still hadn’t been told why she was being searched, she said.
“When I did manage to speak, I asked, why did she need to check me there?”
She was then told about the baby.
She said she felt confused and insulted, particularly given she was older than the other women taken down to the tarmac but was the only one who was searched.
“I felt like I had been assaulted. I gave no consent. It felt like I was made to do this under duress, and it was like under gunpoint. I felt like that’s exactly how it felt,” she said.
“I had machine gun-wielding police officers three feet away from me. It was awful. It was absolutely awful.”
Mandy said she spent the next few weeks “in a state of shock. I felt totally violated. Totally, totally violated.”
That turned to anger, especially when she learned other women were affected.
She said she has since been prescribed antidepressants over the effects of that search, as well as for other factors like COVID-19 lockdowns.
Mandy said she believes she is the only woman on her flight who was given an invasive search, but she was far from the only one in Doha subjected to that treatment.
Damian Sturzaker, Mandy’s lawyer, told Insider that women on at least eight more flights from Doha were also taken off, and he believes some of them were examined. The total number of women affected is unclear.
Qatar’s government acknowledged last year that authorities were “examining a number of female passengers,” and “standard procedures were violated,” The New York Times reported. Qatar’s prime minister apologized, calling the searches “unacceptable.”
‘Under the impression they were being kidnapped’
Sturzaker told Insider many of his clients still experience “ongoing effects” of trauma, and many still struggle with work and air travel.
Some of the Australian women behind the lawsuit “compared the violation and humiliation as being a victim of rape” when speaking to Australian police, Sturzaker said in an October 2021 letter to Qatar Airways’ CEO. Insider has reviewed the letter.
“They outright feared for their lives and expected to be shot,” the letter said.
“Many were under the impression they were being kidnapped and that a terrorist attack was occurring.”
Sturzaker told Insider that his clients didn’t initially want to take legal action, but Qatari authorities ignored their attempts to talk about what happened and ensure it doesn’t happen to other women.
The lawsuit is expected in the coming weeks, Sturzaker told Insider.
Qatari officials said last November that they had found the baby’s mother, identifying her only as an Asian woman who fled Qatar after leaving the baby. It’s unclear what has happened to the baby since.
Mandy said she’s angry at the lack of communication from Qatar and lack of apology from the airline: “It’s actually disgusting how we can be treated like that.”
She now wants to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else: “I’m just an ordinary person, and it’s happened to me. I want to stand up and have a voice about this because it cannot happen to anybody else in any other airport.”
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