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The dark side of Qatar: How extreme wealth hides a sinister underbelly where women are second class

Don’t be fooled by the seeming modernity of Qatar – the glittering towers, conspicuous wealth and love of high-end European fashion brands.

Any belief this Islamic-dominated nation with its love of Gucci, Prada and Balenciaga is a tolerant, open-minded society is just a mirage.

As the ‘invasive examination’ of 13 Australian women at one of Doha’s two commercial airports has reminded us, there are two distinct sides to Qatar. 

Oil and gas reserves make Qatar one of the world’s richest countries on a per capita basis.

But religion and law make it seem a hotbed of human rights abuses to many western eyes.

As with some other countries in the region, sex outside of marriage is illegal and victims of sexual assault may be arrested, detained and prosecuted for adultery. 

Homosexuality can be punished by death and any public display of affection is against the law.  Men outnumber women by more than three to one. 

Oil and gas reserves make Qatar one of the world's richest countries on a per capita basis. Religion and law make it seem a hotbed of human rights abuses to many western eyes. Men outnumber women by more than three to one. Stock image

Oil and gas reserves make Qatar one of the world's richest countries on a per capita basis. Religion and law make it seem a hotbed of human rights abuses to many western eyes. Men outnumber women by more than three to one. Stock image

Oil and gas reserves make Qatar one of the world’s richest countries on a per capita basis. Religion and law make it seem a hotbed of human rights abuses to many western eyes. Men outnumber women by more than three to one. Stock image

The idea this Islamic-dominated nation with its love of Gucci, Prada and Bvlgari is a tolerant, open-minded society is just a mirage. As the 'invasive examination' of 13 Australian women at one of Doha's two commercial airports shows, there are two distinct sides to Qatar

The idea this Islamic-dominated nation with its love of Gucci, Prada and Bvlgari is a tolerant, open-minded society is just a mirage. As the 'invasive examination' of 13 Australian women at one of Doha's two commercial airports shows, there are two distinct sides to Qatar

The idea this Islamic-dominated nation with its love of Gucci, Prada and Bvlgari is a tolerant, open-minded society is just a mirage. As the ‘invasive examination’ of 13 Australian women at one of Doha’s two commercial airports shows, there are two distinct sides to Qatar

Don't be fooled by the seeming modernity of Qatar - the glittering towers, conspicuous wealth and love of high-end western fashion brands. sex outside of marriage is illegal and victims of sexual assault may be arrested, detained and prosecuted for adultery

Don't be fooled by the seeming modernity of Qatar - the glittering towers, conspicuous wealth and love of high-end western fashion brands. sex outside of marriage is illegal and victims of sexual assault may be arrested, detained and prosecuted for adultery

Don’t be fooled by the seeming modernity of Qatar – the glittering towers, conspicuous wealth and love of high-end western fashion brands. sex outside of marriage is illegal and victims of sexual assault may be arrested, detained and prosecuted for adultery

Authorities can detain and deport visitors if they carry medication to treat HIV or hepatitis. The same can happen to anyone who tests positive to either illness.

Foreigners involved in a commercial civil dispute can have their passport confiscated and those owing money can be jailed until they settle their debts. 

About 3,000 Australians live in Qatar and most understand the nation’s legal system but the almost 40,000 who visit the country each year may not. 

Much of the world has been stunned after a group of Australian women had their genitals ‘invasively examined’ after a premature baby was found at Hamad International Airport in Doha. 

The thirteen travellers were hauled off a Sydney-bound flight on October 2 and led through the terminal to ambulances where they were subjected to medical checks to determine if they had just given birth.   

One of the women who was strip searched told the ABC she would take part in a class action if the 12 other women came forward.

Two of the 13, who wanted to remain anonymous, said no one at the airport spoke English or tried to explain the situation.

One said she saw a masked woman inside an ambulance and when she was ordered to step inside, authorities closed the door behind her.

Thirteen Australian women were hauled off a Sydney-bound flight from Hamad International Airport (pictured) in Doha on October 2 and subjected to invasive searches

Thirteen Australian women were hauled off a Sydney-bound flight from Hamad International Airport (pictured) in Doha on October 2 and subjected to invasive searches

Thirteen Australian women were hauled off a Sydney-bound flight from Hamad International Airport (pictured) in Doha on October 2 and subjected to invasive searches

Qatar airline staff strip searched the women without their consent after allegedly discovering an abandoned baby in an airport bathroom (stock image)

Qatar airline staff strip searched the women without their consent after allegedly discovering an abandoned baby in an airport bathroom (stock image)

Qatar airline staff strip searched the women without their consent after allegedly discovering an abandoned baby in an airport bathroom (stock image)

‘She told me to pull my pants down and that I needed to examine my vagina,’ the Australian woman said.

‘I said, “I’m not doing that” and she did not explain anything to me. She just kept saying “we need to see it, we need to see it”.’

The woman said she tried to escape, but there was nowhere to run and she eventually relented.

‘I was panicking. Everyone had gone white and was shaking,’ she said.

A source in Doha briefed on the incident said: ‘[Officials] were forcing women to undergo invasive body searches – basically forced pap smears.’

Foreign Minister Marise Payne has expressed ‘serious concerns’ to Qatari officials and is awaiting a report to find out exactly what happened.

She said the events were ‘grossly disturbing, offensive and deeply concerning’.

What you can and can’t do in Qatar – and what to do if you break the law

Many things are against the law in Qatar that are legal in Australia. Penalties include corporal punishment. 

These include laws around eating and drinking, buying and drinking alcohol, intimacy and obscenity. Same-sex relationships are illegal, as are public displays of affection. Qatar has strict laws regarding imports.

If you’re detained or arrested, Qatari authorities may not notify the Australian Government. Ask police or prison officials to tell the Australian Embassy in Doha.

Don’t use or carry illegal drugs. Penalties for drug offences include long jail terms. Authorities can detain and deport you if you carry medication to treat HIV and hepatitis. This can also happen if you test positive to either illness.

If you’re involved in a commercial civil dispute, local firms or courts may take your passport. Authorities can stop you leaving Qatar until the dispute is resolved. 

If you owe money, you may go to jail until you settle your debts. Qatar has strict fraud laws. Offences include presenting a cheque that bounces, and failing to pay loans, bills or fines. You could go to jail.

Sex outside of marriage is illegal. If you’re the victim of a sexual assault, authorities may arrest, detain or prosecute you for adultery. If you’re sexually assaulted in Qatar, ask for consular help. 

Qatar has strict Islamic codes of dress and behaviour. Wear clothes that cover your shoulders and knees. If you’re at tourist attractions, shopping malls and other public places, check the specific dress codes at the venue or online.

Source: smartraveller.gov.au  

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The incident has thrust Qatar and its attitude towards women into the spotlight two years before it is due to host the FIFA World Cup.    

For a small country occupying just 11,600 square kilometres on the north-eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, Qatar wields a disproportionate influence in the world.

Of its population of 2.7millon, only about 10 per cent are Qatari citizens. The official language is Arabic, but English is widely spoken. 

Qatar regularly tops lists of countries with the highest gross domestic product per capita on a purchasing power basis and has the world’s third largest natural gas reserves.

It ranks third in the Arab world on the United Nations’ human development index behind the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Qatar has been ruled by the House of Thani since a treaty signed with the British in 1868 recognised its separate status from neighbouring Bahrain. It received full independence from the UK in 1971.

Qatar regularly tops lists of countries with the highest gross domestic product per capita on a purchasing power basis. The man-made peninsula called The Pearl with its high-rise office buildings, hotels and luxury shops is pictured

Qatar regularly tops lists of countries with the highest gross domestic product per capita on a purchasing power basis. The man-made peninsula called The Pearl with its high-rise office buildings, hotels and luxury shops is pictured

Qatar regularly tops lists of countries with the highest gross domestic product per capita on a purchasing power basis. The man-made peninsula called The Pearl with its high-rise office buildings, hotels and luxury shops is pictured

It is home to the Al Jazeera Media Network based in Doha and is considered a middle power on the global stage along with countries including Australia.

The eighth Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, has exclusive power to appoint and remove the prime minister and cabinet ministers, who constitute the Council of Ministers.

Any laws and decress proposed by the Council have to be submitted for ratification to the Emir, who has final say on all matters.

Islamic polygamy is permitted. Political bodies and trade unions are banned.

Laws against sex between unmarried people leads to secret pregnancies – perhaps as in the case at the airport – particularly among migrant workers.

Family matters, inheritance and crimes including murder, robbery and adultery are subject to Sharia law.

In some cases Sharia family law courts treat a woman’s testimony as being worth half that of a man’s.

Of its population of 2.7millon, only about 10 per cent are Qatari citizens. The official language is Arabic, but English is widely spoken. A migrant worker is pictured wheeling a barrow in Doha

Of its population of 2.7millon, only about 10 per cent are Qatari citizens. The official language is Arabic, but English is widely spoken. A migrant worker is pictured wheeling a barrow in Doha

Of its population of 2.7millon, only about 10 per cent are Qatari citizens. The official language is Arabic, but English is widely spoken. A migrant worker is pictured wheeling a barrow in Doha

According to Amnesty International, it is much more difficult for women than men to seek divorce and they are at severe economic disadvantage if their husband leaves them.

‘Women also remained inadequately protected against violence, including within the family,’ the human rights watchdog says.

The Penal Code criminalises anyone who ‘induces or tempts a male or female, by any means, into committing acts contrary to morals or that are unlawful.’ 

It does not criminalise domestic violence or marital rape, other than one article of the family law which forbids husbands from hurting their wives physically or morally, and general provisions on assault. 

Judicially-ordered corporal punishment is common and those who engage in illicit sexual relations or drink alcohol can be flogged. 

In 2011 at least 21 people – mostly foreign nationals – were sentenced to between 30 and 100 lashes for those offences.

The penalty for adultery is 100 lashes and a Filipino woman was sentenced to that punishment in 2006. Only Muslims who are medically fit can be subjected to such ordeals.

Qatar attracts low-skilled labourers and domestic servants from countries throughout Asia and parts of Africa and according to the US State Department such expatriate workers can face conditions 'indicative of involuntary servitude'. Stock image

Qatar attracts low-skilled labourers and domestic servants from countries throughout Asia and parts of Africa and according to the US State Department such expatriate workers can face conditions 'indicative of involuntary servitude'. Stock image

Qatar attracts low-skilled labourers and domestic servants from countries throughout Asia and parts of Africa and according to the US State Department such expatriate workers can face conditions ‘indicative of involuntary servitude’. Stock image

Stoning is a legal punishment and homosexuality or renouncing Islam can attract the death penalty but no one has been executed for those offences.

The UN’s Committee Against Torture has declared flogging and stoning in breach of the obligations of member states.

Blasphemy can be punished by seven years in prison while trying to convert someone to another religion can put an offender in jail for ten years.

Alcohol can be served in some luxury hotels but only to non-Muslims. Muslims can be deported for drinking alcohol. 

A Qatar Airways subsidiary operates the only liquor story in the country, which also sells pork to holders of permits.

Until recently Qatar Airways sacked female workers if they got pregnant or married within the first five years of their employment.

The rules were relaxed five years ago after pressure from international labour groups.

The Australian government has formally registered serious concerns with Qatari authorities about the treatment of 12 women who were hauled off a flight

The Australian government has formally registered serious concerns with Qatari authorities about the treatment of 12 women who were hauled off a flight

The Australian government has formally registered serious concerns with Qatari authorities about the treatment of 12 women who were hauled off a flight

Six years ago a campaign was launched to remind tourists of Qatar’s strict dress code. 

Women were advised not to wear sleeveless dresses, miniskirts, leggings, or short or tight clothing, while men were told not to wear only shorts and singlets.

Qatar attracts low-skilled labourers and domestic servants from countries throughout Asia and parts of Africa and according to the US State Department such expatriate workers can face conditions ‘indicative of involuntary servitude’.

Common labour rights violations include beatings, sexual assault, detention, withholding of pay, confiscation of passports and threats of legal action.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australian enjoys a ‘friendly bilateral relationship’ with Qatar, ‘marked by strong and growing commercial links, notably in food exports and engineering services.’

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it had registered 'serious concerns' with Qatari authorities over their handling of the incident. Pictured: Qatari police

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it had registered 'serious concerns' with Qatari authorities over their handling of the incident. Pictured: Qatari police

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it had registered ‘serious concerns’ with Qatari authorities over their handling of the incident. Pictured: Qatari police

Qatar opened its embassy in Canberra in early 2012, and Australia opened an embassy in Doha in late 2016.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic Qatar Airways had daily direct flights between Doha and Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, Canberra and Adelaide.

An Australian federal government spokesperson said the treatment of the women at Doha’s airport was offensive, grossly inappropriate and beyond circumstances in which they could give free and informed consent.

‘The Australian government is deeply concerned at the unacceptable treatment of some female passengers on a recent Qatar Airways flight at Doha Airport,’ the spokesman said.

‘The government has formally registered our serious concerns about this incident with Qatari authorities. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is engaged on this matter through diplomatic channels.’

Source: Daily Mail Australia | World News

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