The episode has highlighted the treatment of women in Qatar, where sex, pregnancy and childbirth outside of marriage are criminalized. Women accused of such crimes, even if their pregnancy resulted from rape, could face arrest or imprisonment.
The episode also raised questions about whether foreign women traveling through the airport in Qatar could legally be subject to invasive and potentially nonconsensual procedures, experts said. In 2016, a Dutch woman who had reported being drugged and raped was convicted of adultery and handed a suspended sentence, along with fines.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade warns on its website that the Qatari authorities may not notify the Australian government after arresting or detaining its citizens.
Mr. Morrison, the prime minister, said in his statement, “It is important wherever travelers are traveling, they are able to do so, free of those types of incidents. And we will continue to ensure we support Australians and all those circumstances, both here and when traveling overseas.”
The Transport Workers’ Union of New South Wales in Australia said that the airport episode was so “grossly disturbing” that its members who work at the Sydney airport were considering stopping servicing, cleaning or refueling Qatar Airways aircraft.
“What these women were forced to go through at the hands of Qatari authorities must be labeled for what it is, sexual assault,” Richard Olsen, the union’s New South Wales secretary, said in a statement. “These women had no choice, they had no guidance as to what was happening, and they did not consent.”
Trade between Qatar and Australia was worth more than $1.5 billion last year, making the country Australia’s second-largest two-way trading partner in the Middle East and North Africa, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Aviation services are one of Qatar’s main exports to Australia.