The bid of five Australian women to gain justice after invasive strip searches at a Middle Eastern airport in October 2020 has been boosted with a third Qatari government body hit with claims of assault, negligence, battery and false imprisonment.
The lawsuit filed by the women in the Federal Court was initially against the government-owned Qatar Civil Aviation Authority (QCAA) and Qatar Airways.
But this week a judge ruled they were also allowed to name Qatar Company for Airport Operation and Management (MATAR) in the lawsuit.
According to court documents seen by news.com.au, MATAR is a corporate subsidiary of Qatar Airways and had been contracted by QCAA to manage Hamad Airport in Doha where the assaults took place.
The women are being represented by Marque Lawyers.
Marque Lawyers declined to comment on proceedings.
Morris Mennilli, which is representing Qatar Airlines, and is seeking to throw out the claims did not return calls.
Gilbert and Tobin which is representing QCAA, and is also seeking to have the case thrown out, also did not return calls.
The case has been adjourned until June 9.
A spokesperson for Qata Airlines told news.com.au that the airline “recognise the distress and concern the litigants experienced”.
“The events in question formed part of a criminal investigation by the Qatari Police which the airline had no control over.
“As with all other airlines and passengers who were affected by this matter, Qatar Airways was required to comply and had no ability to refuse directions issued at the time by the Qatari authorities.”
Court documents describe the terrifying, degrading assaults in detail.
The women were on board a Qatar Airways flight on October 2, 2020, when a newborn baby was allegedly found in a bathroom in the terminal.
What happened next is truly horrifying.
Qatar is an ultraconservative Muslim monarchy, where sex and childbirth outside of marriage are punishable by jail.
As authorities searched for the mother of the newborn all female passengers were told to leave the aircraft.
Men wearing dark uniform and carrying guns entered the aircraft to escort them.
Four of the women were subject to gynaecological examinations without their consent.
One was vaginally penetrated.
The fifth woman, who was elderly and legally blind, heard a male say words to the effect of “no, not her” before being directed back to the aircraft by armed men.
The assaults made international headlines, with then Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described it as “appalling”.
‘Terrified, humiliated …’
One of the victims, interviewed on 60 minutes said she was “terrified, humiliated …”.
She described the attack as “just awful”.
At first the woman thought it was a hostage or terror situation when armed men entered the plan.
She told reporter Sarah Abo she felt she didn’t have a choice but to leave the plane.
“I wondered whether I would see my husband, or family, again,” she said tearfully.
The assault, she said, took place in an ambulance, on the tarmac, with the ambulance surrounded by men.
“I could see out and I was wondering if the men could see in,” she said.
“I remember lying there thinking: This isn’t right. I was in shock, I couldn’t believe it had happened to me.”