'Absolutely no way': Qatari authorities' explanation of strip-searches over abandoned baby refuted by law expert who was onboard

A law expert onboard the Qatar Airways flight delayed while female passengers were subjected to invasive physical examinations following the discovery of an abandoned newborn baby says there is "absolutely no way" any of the passengers could have been the child's mother.

On Sunday it was revealed that 13 women on a flight to Sydney were taken off the plane to an ambulance on the runway and subjected to examinations to determine whether they had recently given birth.

The incident occurred after a newborn baby was found left in a bathroom at Hamad International Airport (HIA) and has led to the Australian government formally registering "serious concerns" with Qatari authorities.

Dr Wolfgang Babeck, a professor of law at Bond University in New South Wales, was on the flight and spoke about the incident with Newshub from Sydney.

The aircraft sat on the tarmac for hours.
The aircraft sat on the tarmac for hours. Photo credit: Supplied.

He said everyone in the transit lounge he had spent at least three hours had come from other international flights and it would not have been possible for a heavily pregnant woman to have boarded a flight to Doha in the first place.

"These passengers were all transit passengers. How on earth could they have given birth coming from one plane into another?" he said.

Dr Babeck says he totally disagrees with HIA's position that officials carried out these examinations due to concerns about "the health and welfare of a mother who had just given birth", saying his fellow passengers were treated like criminals.

"This is an invasive investigation and examination that applies to a suspect, not to anybody you want to provide help for," Dr Babeck told Newshub. 

"If you want to help somebody, then help needs to be accepted. It's a voluntary thing, it needs to be accepted."

Hamad International Airport statement.
Hamad International Airport statement. Photo credit: Newshub.

Dr Babeck was one of 32 passengers waiting to board QR908, a non-stop flight from HIA in Doha to Sydney. Everyone onboard was visibly excited to finally be on a flight home, he said, after some had been through as many as five flight cancellations in efforts to return to Australia.

When the plane remained at its gate after its expected departure time, Dr Babeck assumed there had been a technical issue causing a delay - but then minutes turned into hours.

"We were advised by the crew that the entire airport was closed," he said.

As the hours ticked by and with no information being given to passengers, they began to speculate that there must have been a security incident.

"After about three hours of delay, there was an announcement that all the women should please disembark the aircraft," Dr Babeck said.

"I thought that the more vulnerable people had been taken off the plane and I was concerned there was a security issue, that they were looking for a bomb or a person who didn't belong there."

Following the removal of all women, security guards came onboard and searched the plane for any passengers that may have been hiding. About 30 minutes later the women returned and details of what had unfolded became a bit clearer.

"One woman was crying, everyone was upset, but they were more in shock, in disbelief," Dr Babeck said.

"It's a sensitive, delicate issue and you don't want to ask a lot of questions. Particularly as a male, this topic is quite taboo and a horrific experience that is quite traumatic.

"It's hard to understand that this is possible in this day and age. How could this have happened?"

'Absolutely no way': Qatari authorities' explanation of strip-searches over abandoned baby refuted by law expert who was onboard
Photo credit: Supplied.

Zina law:

Dr Babeck, who is an expert in constitutional law, says the mother of the child is probably a lot closer to home than Sydney, Australia.

"It's likely that a woman within the country working at the airport or having access to the airport may have given birth and due to the local laws made this decision," he said.

Human Rights Watch says that in Qatar, sex outside of marriage, pregnancy out of wedlock and adultery are crimes punishable by imprisonment. According to the 'zina law', Muslim offenders can also be subjected to an additional penalty of flogging while married Muslim men may be sentenced to death by stoning.

"This may be the reason why the mother made such a heartbreaking step to abandon her child, it's something so massive," Dr Babeck said.

And he is concerned other women were exposed to the same examinations but are yet to speak out.

"I think you could suspect that more flights were checked because the entire airport was closed," Dr Babeck said.

"Some other cultures might be less inclined to talk about this happening. My Australian colleagues took such a long time to speak out."

The infant is being cared for in Doha, while the mother is yet to be found.