(Reuters) - An appeals court in Qatar on Sunday overturned the convictions of a Los Angeles couple who were sentenced to three years in jail for the death of their adopted African-born daughter, but the government was refusing to let the couple leave the country, a spokesman for the family said.
Matthew and Grace Huang were trying to return to the United States after the tribunal found the lower court had made numerous errors, family spokesman Eric Volz told Reuters. But as soon as they arrived at the airport in Doha, their passports were seized and they were told a new arrest warrant had been issued for them, Volz said.
“This is sort of a spiteful move,” Volz said.
Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement saying he was “deeply concerned” about “new delays that have prevented their departure,” and called on Qatari officials to immediately allow the couple to return to the United States.
“The thoroughly documented findings of the court clearly establish the Huangs’ innocence,” Kerry said. “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.”
A representative of the Qatari government could not be reached immediately.
The Huangs were arrested in January 2013 after their 8-year-old daughter, Gloria, died unexpectedly.
An autopsy found that the girl had died of “cachexia and dehydration,” and a prosecutor charged the couple with “murder with intent by forced starvation.” Cachexia is an irreversible loss of body mass. They were convicted in April.
The couple argued that Gloria had been suffering from malnutrition-related diseases since they adopted her from Ghana at the age of four, and that the Qatari authorities had failed to acknowledge this.
A website created to publicize the case (freemattandgrace.com ) said Matthew Huang, a Stanford University-trained engineer, had moved to Qatar with his wife and their three young children in 2012 to help oversee a infrastructure project related to the 2022 soccer World Cup.
Gloria died on Jan. 15, 2013, and Qatari police charged the couple the next day. The family’s two other adopted children were placed in an orphanage initially, but have since returned to the United States.
Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Eric Walsh