The Qatari government sentenced an American Christian couple to three years in prison Thursday on charges they starved their 8-year-old adopted daughter. The case highlights racial and cultural misunderstandings: Matthew and Grace Huang are of Chinese descent and adopted three children from Africa, which caused Qatari officials to think they were trafficking the children for their organs.
“We have just been wrongfully convicted and we feel as if we are being kidnapped by the Qatar judicial system,” Matthew Huang told reporters outside the courtroom. “This verdict is wrong and appears to be nothing more a than an effort to save face.”
The Huangs, who moved to Doha in 2012 for business, were arrested in January 2013 after their adopted daughter, Gloria, died of malnutrition. The Huangs said Gloria, who was adopted from Ghana, struggled with an eating disorder that included periods of binging and self-starvation. Defense witnesses testified that she appeared healthy and active just days before her death.
The Qatari judge did not specify the charges that led to the couple’s conviction, but prosecutors claimed the Huangs denied Gloria food and locked her in her room at night so that they could harvest her organs after she died. An earlier investigative report by Qatari police questioned why the Huangs would adopt children who didn’t share their “hereditary traits” and raised concerns that the couple was part of a human trafficking operation, according to the family website.
The judge also fined the couple $4,100 and said they faced deportation after their three-year sentence. The couple already spent 11 months in prison before being released in November.
Eric Volz, the managing director for the David House Agency, a Los Angeles-based group helping Americans aboard, said there was “zero evidence” in this case and that the couple had already bought plane tickets home, expecting to be acquitted. The Huangs’ two other adopted children are currently with Grace Huang’s mother in Washington.
The U.S. State Department’s Maria Harf said Wednesday that the U.S. government was concerned that “not all of the evidence was being weighed by the court and that cultural misunderstandings may have been leading to an unfair trial.” She also mentioned that State Department officials have raised this issue with the Qatar government multiple times.
Outside the courtroom, Matthew Huang had a plea for the president: “We are calling on the United States President Obama to call the Head of State in Qatar and explain to him why American families adopt high-needs children. This verdict should be overturned immediately and we should be allowed to go home.”