In an emotional turn of events yesterday, Los Angeles couple Matthew and Grace Huang, who have been held in Qatar on murder and child endangerment charges since 2013, were acquitted of any wrongdoing in the death of their eight-year-old daughter, Gloria. The Huangs have spent nearly two years fighting accusations that they had killed their adopted Ghanaian daughter in an effort to harvest her organs or conduct medical experiments on her. Their other children, two boys who are also adopted and African-born, have since returned to the U.S. to live with Grace Huang’s mother. In a country whose judicial system strongly favors prosecutors and law enforcement, yesterday’s decision was somewhat surprising. Nevertheless, apellate judge Abdul Rahman al-Sharafi dismantled the prosecution’s case point by point—citing a fabricated autopsy report and other unsound arguments—and called Matthew and Grace Huang good parents.
“This has been an emotional trial for me and my family,” Matthew Huang said in a statement upon hearing yesterday’s verdict. “Grace and I want to go home and be reunited with our sons. We have been unable to grieve our daughter’s death. But we want to thank the judge for today’s decision.”
Their elation, however, was quickly overshadowed when the Huangs made moves to leave Qatar: Despite al-Sharafi determining that the Huangs were free to go, the couple had their passports confiscated by immigration authorities at the Doha airport and were prevented from boarding their flight. The legal representatives escorting them as well as United States ambassador Dana Shell Smith tried to intervene with Qatari authorities, but according to Eric Volz, the family’s representative and the managing director of California’s David House International Crisis Agency, a new appeal has been filed against the couple. For reasons that remain unclear, they are no longer allowed to leave.
Early this morning, the Huangs issued a statement in regards to this new roadblock. “We just left the airport after waiting all day for the U.S. government to get us out of Qatar,” they said. Despite urging even president Obama to “step in” and “clean up the situation,” their “requests are being ignored and we are beyond frustrated,” they said.
The Huangs’ case has garnered international attention due to its political connotations and racial overtones. The couple moved to Qatar in 2012 with Gloria and their other children when Matthew, an engineer for MWH Global, was tasked with helping the country prepare for the 2022 World Cup. On January 15, 2013, Gloria died unexpectedly from causes that are still nebulous. Despite the fact that her body showed no outward signs of outward trauma, Qatari authorities questioned why the Huangs, who are of Asian descent, would want to adopt children who did not share their “hereditary traits.” They were accused of starving Gloria to death, and due to a lack of Western-style adoptions and cross-cultural families in the Middle East, the Huangs faced an unmoved prosecution that pushed for a minimum of 25 years in prison and even the death penalty.
The Huangs spent close to a year in prison before being released on their own recognizance in November of last year. Though their two boys were sent back to the Los Angeles, the couple was barred from leaving until a decision in their trial was reached. On March 27 of this year, they were charged with child endangerment and sentenced to three years in prison but were allowed to remain free until yesterday’s appeal.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke Sunday with Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiya and expressed his concern with this new delay in a statement. “The thoroughly documented findings of the court clearly establish the Huangs’ innocence. The 22 long months of court proceedings following their daughter’s tragic death have compounded the tragedy for the Huang family, and it is time now, as the Appeals Court stated, to let the Huangs return home,” Kerry said.