Qatar court jails US couple for three years over death of adopted African daughter
Pair insist their adopted daughter from Africa had an eating disorder
A Qatari court yesterday sentenced a US couple from Los Angeles to three years in prison for causing the death of their adopted eight-year-old daughter.
Matthew and Grace Huang were arrested in January last year following the death of their daughter Gloria, who came from an orphanage in Ghana. They were accused of causing her death in order to sell her organs.
The court also ordered the couple to pay a fine of 15,000 riyals (HK$32,000) each and to be deported after serving their sentence.
But reading the verdict, the judge did not specify the exact charges for which the Huangs were convicted.
The couple, who say the child had an eating disorder, called on US President Barack Obama, who visits neighbouring Saudi Arabia today, to intervene in the case.
They have two weeks to appeal.
"We have just been wrongfully convicted and we feel as if we are being kidnapped by the Qatar judicial system," Matthew Huang said in a statement read to reporters outside the court.
"This verdict is wrong and appears to be nothing more than an effort to save face," he said.
"We are calling on United States President Obama to call the head of state in Qatar and explain to him why American families adopt high-needs children," said Huang.
He said the ruling must be "overturned immediately and we should be allowed to go home."
Defence lawyer Eric Woltz said the case was left in confusion and the charge unclear.
"The judge literally read a couple of sentences. There wasn't much explanations given. There's still a lot of confusion as to how this is happening," he said.
"As far as we know they've not been ordered to go back to prison but we also were not told that they are not going back to prison." said Woltz. "So they're very scared and we're just waiting for a word from the court."
The lawyer said the couple "came to the court thinking that they would be declared innocent. Matt and Grace even had plane tickets already paid for.
"They thought they were gonna go home and be with their sons."
The couple of Chinese origin were released in November pending trial, but the court denied their request to leave the country to join their two other adopted children.
The African-born children left Qatar during the trial to live with relatives in the US.
The public prosecutor had pushed for the death penalty for the Huangs.
The family's supporters maintain Qatari authorities misunderstood the Huangs' situation and found it suspicious.
The "Free Grace and Matt" website said police accuse the couple of having adopted the children "in order to harvest their organs, or perhaps to perform medical experiments on them."
Gloria, their daughter, had "an eating disorder, a legacy of her impoverished childhood in Ghana, in which she would sometimes fast, binge-eat or steal food," the website says.
Gloria would even get food from garbage cans or from strangers.
The Huangs moved to Qatar in 2012 for Matthew, an engineer, to work on infrastructure projects linked to the 2022 soccer World Cup.
Their supporters describe them as a loving family and say they have collected supporting testimony from people who knew them in Qatar, which authorities declined to accept.
Additional reporting by Associated Press