The Cable

American Couple Acquitted of Murder in Qatar Set to Leave Wednesday

An American couple detained in Qatar despite being acquitted of killing their adopted daughter will be allowed to leave the country Wednesday.

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An American couple detained in Qatar despite being acquitted of killing their adopted daughter will be allowed to leave the country Wednesday, bringing an end to a long running saga that has strained relations between the Obama administration and one of Washington’s closest Middle Eastern allies.

The case of Matthew and Grace Huang, the Los Angeles couple accused in January 2013 of starving their 8-year-old adopted Ghanaian daughter, Gloria, revealed numerous missteps by Qatari police and prosecutors during the investigation of the crime and the subsequent trial. Despite close ties between Qatar and the United States, the Qatari legal process has drawn sharp criticism from the State Department and the United Nations, which cited the case as an example of injustice within Qatar’s legal system.

After being charged with murder, the couple spent nearly a year in a Qatari jail before being released on their own recognizance in November 2013. In March 2014, they were convicted of child endangerment and sentenced to three years in prison.

According to the California Innocence Project, early on in the investigation, Qatari police raised questions about why a couple of Asian descent would want to adopt a child that did not share “hereditary features” and was not “good looking.” Prosecutors also accused the Huangs of “human trafficking and human organ trafficking,” despite there being no evidence that the couple engaged in either activity.

“Rather than present actual proof that the Huangs were engaged in human trafficking or that Gloria was mistreated, the prosecution instead called police investigators as witnesses who testified that ‘anonymous sources’ told them the Huangs were mysterious, stingy, kept to themselves, and that Gloria had ‘vanished’ in the days leading up to her death,” the California Innocence Project wrote in its report on the case.

On Sunday, a Qatari appeals court absolved the couple of wrongdoing. However, when the Huangs attempted to leave that same day, Qatari immigration officials stopped them from boarding a flight to the United States and confiscated their passports.

On Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador to Qatar Dana Smith announced that the couple, which also has two adopted sons, would be able to travel back to Los Angeles Wednesday. This followed strong condemnation of Qatar’s actions by Secretary of State John Kerry.

“The thoroughly documented findings of the court clearly establish the Huangs’ innocence,” Kerry said Nov. 30. “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.”

PHOTO: Karim Jaafar /AFP

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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