A Qatari appeals court has acquitted a US couple charged with parental neglect leading to the death of their adopted eight-year-old daughter.
A judge in the capital Doha on Sunday absolved Matthew and Grace Huang, who had adopted their daughter Gloria from an orphanage in Ghana, of any responsibility for her death.
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.
Late on Sunday, however, the couple released a statement saying they had been prevented from leaving the Gulf country and returning to the US despite the ruling, which they said included permission to go home.
The US embassy confirmed to local website Doha News that the US ambassador had earlier accompanied the couple to the airport’s immigration department in an attempt to help them leave the country.
“We just left the airport after waiting all day for the US government to help us get out of Qatar,” the statement said.
“We have been told we cannot leave the country and the US government has no answers as to why. We now sit waiting for the Qatar government to make the next move.”
In a statement, US Secretary of State John Kerry said he was deeply concerned about the delay to their departure.
“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,” he said.
The couple had been subject to a travel ban while the case was ongoing.
Doha News, citing a legal source, said it was unusual for such bans to be lifted so soon after a ruling and that the delay was due to administrative technicalities.
The couple had been found guilty of child endangerment by Qatari Judge Abdullah al-Emadi in March and sentenced to jail time by a criminal court.
The appeals court ruled the couple were not guilty and said they were free to leave Qatar, based on witness accounts that Gloria was “not neglected in leading a normal life”.
The witnesses had testified that they saw Gloria eating one day before her death, according to the presiding judge.
“This negates the charge that she was prevented from eating, a charge that the court of first instance used as a base for its initial ruling,” the judge said.
Gloria’s death certificate, issued by Qatar’s Supreme Council of Health, listed the causes of death as “cachexia and dehydration”. At the time, she had not eaten during the four days leading up to her death, according to her parents.
“Grace and I want to go home and be reunited with our sons,” Matthew Huang said, describing the judicial process in the Gulf state as “long and emotional”.
“We have been unable to grieve our daughter’s death but we want to thank the judge for today’s decision,” he told reporters outside the court.
The US State Department publicly commented on the case in March, saying it had urged the government of Qatar to ensure a fair, transparent, and expeditious trial.
“We have been concerned by indications that not all of the evidence was being weighed by the court and that cultural misunderstandings may have been leading to an unfair trial,” Marie Harf, the State Department deputy spokesperson, said at the time.
Both adoption and multiracial families are rare in Qatar and the family’s supporters maintain authorities misunderstood the Huangs’ situation.
The Huangs have two other adopted children, also from Africa.