Female passengers on as many as 10 planes flying out of Doha were forced to undergo "appalling" physical examinations, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne has alleged.
The Gulf emirate was already under the scanner after reports emerged that women on a Sydney-bound Qatar Airways flight were forced to undergo vaginal inspections on October 2. The inspection was conducted after a newborn baby had been abandoned at Doha airport. Qatar's government said that the baby had been wrapped in plastic and abandoned in a trash bin.
Payne said that women on "10 aircraft in total" had been subject to the searches, including 18 women, including 13 Australians, on a flight to Sydney.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison also describing the treatment of the women as "appalling" and "unacceptable". "As a father of a daughter, I could only shudder at the thought that anyone would, Australian or otherwise, would be subjected to that," he said.
After receiving backlash, Qatar's government released a statement promising to ensure the future "safety, security and comfort" of passengers.
"While the aim of the urgently-decided search was to prevent the perpetrators of the horrible crime from escaping, the State of Qatar regrets any distress or infringement on the personal freedoms of any traveller caused by this action," the statement read.
Prime Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al-Thani had ordered an investigation and the results would be shared with international partners, it added.
"The baby girl was rescued from what appeared to be a shocking and appalling attempt to kill her. The infant is now safe under medical care in Doha," the statement said.
Soon after the incident surfaced, Human Rights Watchdog said: "In Qatar and across the Gulf region, sexual relations outside of wedlock are criminalised, meaning a pregnant woman who is not married, even if the pregnancy is the result of rape, may end up facing arrest and prosecution."
"Qatar should prohibit forced gynaecological exams and investigate and bring to account any individuals who authorised any demeaning treatment. It should also decriminalise sex outside of wedlock," the body said.