“I personally found this disturbing,” Dr. Babeck, a law professor who was returning to Australia after visiting his sick father in Germany, said on Monday.
When they returned, Dr. Babeck said, many appeared “shellshocked,” and others were crying. “Everybody was, of course, desperate to get home,” he added.
At least 13 of the women were from Australia, according to reports the women gave to the Australian government. Some passengers on the same flight suggested that, based on information provided to them by the police, their plane might not have been the only one on which women were forced to submit to the invasive exams.
The Doha episode shined a harsh light on the treatment of women in a country where systemic gender disparity and oppression are common, and where it is illegal to have sex or become pregnant outside of marriage. Local women charged with such a crime, known as “zina,” can be imprisoned.
The chief executive of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker, was accused of sexism in 2018 when he said that women were incapable of doing his job because it was “very challenging.” He later apologized.
The episode also raised the question of whether foreign women traveling through the airport in Qatar could legally be subject to the same laws, and to invasive and potentially nonconsensual procedures, experts said.
Jessica, the nurse, said that she and the other women were divided into groups of four and led onto the tarmac toward two ambulances. She and at least one other woman were told to lie down on a table and remove their underwear, she said. The ambulance she was in had windows without blinds, she said, and more than a dozen men were standing outside. The experience lasted about 15 to 20 minutes, she said.