Twenty-two months after Matt and Grace Huang were arrested over the death of their 8-year-old daughter, Gloria, a Qatari judge overturned the child endangerment conviction against the California parents. But the Huangs’ freedom was put on hold when they were apprehended at the Doha airport Monday and not allowed through immigration.
It’s unclear why the Huangs are not allowed to leave the country; some blame missing paperwork while others speculate there may be a new arrest warrant out for them.
For his part, international law expert and former member of Secretary Clinton’s Policy Planning Staff Dr. William White-Burke told Business Insider that Qatar is “bureaucratically heavy” and that the Huangs’ overturned conviction has probably not yet been communicated to immigration officials.
The Huang family has been in the news since January 2013. The couple moved to Qatar in 2012 with their three adopted children, all from Africa, because Matt, an engineer, was overseeing an infrastructure project for the 2022 world cup.
On Jan. 15, 2013 the Huangs’ 8-year-old daughter Gloria died unexpectedly. Matt and Grace were arrested the following day while their two sons were put in a Qatari orphanage. The couple was accused of starving Gloria and was sentenced to three years in prison for child endangerment.
The Huangs adopted Gloria when she was 4 years old and have said that their daughter struggled with a chronic eating disorder where she would binge eat and then not eat for days, the Associated Press has reported. When the couple adopted Gloria she had contracted giardia, a parasite, which can cause long-term digestive impairment.
After his daughter refused to eat for four days, Matt Huang brought her to a Doha hospital where she died after going into cardiac arrest, according to Qatari doctors cited by the Washington Post. Prosecutors alleged that the Huangs starved Gloria for days and locked her in her room.
According to US forensic pediatric pathologist Janice Ophoven, the report on Gloria’s death, written up by Qatari medical examiner Dr. Anis Maomoud Khalifa, does not suggest that the child was malnourished. Ophoven says how Gloria’s unhealthy eating disorder is not uncommon in adoptive children.
Ophoven even calls into question whether a formal autopsy was done considering Khalifa’s notes did not include any photographs of Gloria documenting his findings. Based on Khalifa’s notes alone Ophoven said, “I respectfully disagree with the conclusion that Gloria’s death was caused by forced starvation.”
Cultural differences were also a factor in the Huangs’ trial and March conviction. In a Qatari police report cited by the AP an officer asked why the Huangs, who are of Asian descent, would adopt children who did not have the same “hereditary traits.” One of the advocacy groups that has shown concern in the Huangs’ case, the California Innocence Project, said that, “The Huangs are an unconventional family, particularly by Qatari standards.” The group claims that the charges against the Huangs are “rooted in transparently racial and cultural prejudice.”
White-Burke told Business Insider that it took the Huangs so long to be acquitted because the trial was a clash of judicial cultures. The Huangs were most likely not awarded due process and were unable to present all of the evidence, like Dr. Ophoven’s report, that would have led to a quick acquittal.
“It has been a long and emotional trial for me and my family. 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,” Matt Huang said after the ruling. Now free of a conviction the Huangs wait to hear when they can return home.
The Huangs’ representative Eric Voz with The David House released a statement on behalf of the Huangs Monday saying:
Today in Qatar, Matt and Grace Huang were once again barred from leaving the country. After being found innocent yesterday morning of all the charges leveled against them, they are still not allowed to return to their home in Los Angeles.
We continue to plead with the U.S. Ambassador to Qatar Dana Smith, the Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama to call the Emir of Qatar to free these two innocent American citizens.
It is important to note that all the proper paperwork has been filed to allow them to leave Qatar. Any statements blaming Matt and Grace for these latest delays are not based in truth.
Voz’s statement suggests that there is more than paperwork that is keeping the Huangs from returning to their Los Angeles home.
Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Qatari Foreign Minister Attiya on Sunday and urged him to immediately implement the court’s decision to allow the Huangs to return home, but the couple is currently still banned from travelling. “We are deeply concerned about new delays that have prevented their departure,” Kerry said in a press statement.
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