- By Reid StandishReid Standish is an assistant digital producer at Foreign Policy. A native of British Columbia, he holds a BA in international studies from Simon Fraser University and an MA from the University of Glasgow. He has lived in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine, where he reported on drug trafficking, environmental degradation, and the Eurasian Union.
In 2012, Matthew and Grace Huang left Los Angeles with their three young children for Qatar, where Matthew, an engineer, would oversee an infrastructure project related to the 2022 World Cup. But what had been an exciting journey abroad turned to tragedy the following year when the couple’s 8-year-old daughter, Gloria, fell ill and died. And that’s when the Huangs’ story went from heart-wrenching to bizarre.
Qatari authorities claimed that the Americans maliciously starved Gloria — who was adopted from Ghana — and deliberately let her die. The Huangs maintained that their daughter suffered from an eating disorder, which caused her to fast and binge, due to her malnourishment during her childhood in Africa. Moreover, the couple posits that the case against them is based on misunderstandings about multiracial and adopted families. In addition to Gloria, the Huangs have two sons adopted from Africa.
The Huangs have languished in a Qatari jail since March 27.
On Wednesday, Wendy Sherman, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, met with representatives of the family. In a statement, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the U.S. government is working toward their release. "We seek the Qatari government’s assistance in providing a fair and expeditious conclusion to the proceedings," Harf said.
The case against the Huangs was curious from the beginning and raised serious questions about Qatar’s treatment of minorities. Not only did the couple stand accused of their daughter’s murder, but the Qatari police investigator also claimed that the couple had obtained their children through human trafficking, despite their valid adoption certificates. He further alleged that the Huangs intended to sell their daughter’s organs on the black market.
In prosecuting the couple, Qatari authorities relied heavily on anonymous sources, and observers of the Huangs’ prosecution contend that some of the evidence against the couple was doctored. According to the California Innocence Project, a legal assistance organization, Qatari police fabricated evidence by relying on anonymous sources for the trafficking charges, and the methodology of the pathology report on Gloria was deeply flawed.
By any standard, the Huangs are an unconventional family, and their decision to adopt children from Africa appears to have inflamed prejudices in the Gulf nation. During the trial, Qatari prosecutors asked why defendants of Asian heritage would adopt African children, with one "expert" witness saying: "The deceased girl was black from Africa with a plump figure, while the parents have wheaten or white complexion. Those who adopt normally choose beautiful children." Their sons were originally placed in a Qatari orphanage following the Huangs’ arrest, but now live with their grandmother in the United States.
Despite the many holes in the prosecution’s case, the Huangs were convicted in March — though on exactly what charge remains unclear — and sentenced to three years in jail.
Whether Sherman will see more success in winning the family’s freedom than in her efforts to secure a nuclear deal with Iran remains to be seen.