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Qatar Apologizes for Airport Strip Searches and Pursues Charges

Qatar’s government said on Friday that it had referred several people for prosecution over invasive medical examinations of women aboard 10 planes in Doha this month, after an investigation into the circumstances.

In a harrowing episode on Oct. 2, women on the flights at Hamad International Airport near Doha, the country’s capital, were strip-searched and some were subjected to examinations to determine whether they had recently given birth after an abandoned newborn was found in an airport bathroom.

The situation prompted outrage and disbelief, first in Australia — where the news initially emerged, because one of the flights involved was bound for Sydney — and then internationally, with rights groups calling the airport officials’ actions a breach of basic rights that could amount to sexual assault.

A statement from the Qatari government on Friday said that the “procedures taken by the authorities at the airport, including examining a number of female passengers, revealed that standard procedures were violated.”

“Those responsible for these violations and illegal actions have been referred to the Public Prosecution Office,” the statement added, though it did not specify how many were being charged or what role they had played.

The government said officials would work to “ensure that any violations are avoided in the future” and apologized for “what some female travelers went through as a result of the measures.”

“What took place is wholly inconsistent with Qatar’s culture and values,” the statement said.

The comments are a shift from a government response earlier this week that expressed regret over the exams but defended the actions of officials, who it said had been responding to an “egregious and life-threatening violation of the law,” referring to the abandoned newborn girl who was found alive beneath trash in a bathroom.

Australian news outlets reported this week that an international investigation was underway. And the Australian government said on Monday that it was demanding answers from Qatar Airways after “the unacceptable treatment of some female passengers on a recent Qatar Airways flight at Doha airport,” acts that it called “offensive, grossly inappropriate and beyond circumstances in which the women could give free and informed consent.”

At least one of the flights involved was held for hours as women were removed from the plane, passengers said, and some were led into parked ambulances.

One Australian nurse told The New York Times that some were told to remove their underwear and submit to an invasive exam to see whether they had recently given birth.

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