An American couple has been held in Qatar on a travel ban for more than 19 months, despite efforts from the United States to have the ban lifted so they can return home. The couple, Matthew and Grace Huang of Los Angeles were arrested and imprisoned in January 2013. The Americans came to the attention of the authorities in Qatar after the death of their adopted African daughter.
The Huangs had moved to Qatar with their three children because Mr. Huang was working as an engineer there. Their daughter Gloria, who reportedly had not eaten for days due to a health condition, collapsed at the home and was rushed to the hospital in a comatose state. After Gloria died on Jan. 15, 2013, Qatari police investigators accused the Huangs of child trafficking and deliberately withholding food from her. The investigators expressed disbelief that the Huangs were Gloria’s parents because they are of Asian descent and she was a black African child
The Americans are facing criminal prosecution over their daughter’s death. The case has moved slowly through the Qatari court system but has made some progress. The original charge of murder was thrown out and the charges were changed to child endangerment, a significantly lesser charge. The couple were convicted of the lesser charge in March and sentenced to a three-year prison term. Their two sons were returned to the United States after the parents were arrested. They are now in the custody of other relatives.
The Huangs have appealed their conviction and continue to claim that they are innocent of any wrongdoing. While the Huangs are not being held in custody while their appeal is pending, they have been prohibited from leaving the country as their case winds its way through the courts. American officials have expressed concerns that the case was tainted by racial prejudice and cultural misunderstandings. Questions about the fairness of the prosecution have also been raised.
Qatar is an important ally to the United States, one of few in the Middle East. In a statement from the State Department, the United States publicly asked for the Qatar government’s aid in solving the situation and allowing the Huangs to return home to the United States. The couple’s relatives, legal advocates and two leading State Department officials have attended multiple meetings with Qatar’s government officials seeking a solution, but so far, a solution suitable to all parties has not been found.