December 2, 2014 / 11:40 AM / 4 years ago

U.S. lobbies Qatar over couple in child death case

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - U.S. officials have been in contact with Qatar’s government to ask them to allow a Los Angeles couple to return home after an appeals court threw out convictions linked to the death of their African-born adopted daughter, a State Department spokeswoman said on Monday.

Grace and Matthew (L) Huang, a U.S. couple who were sentenced to three years in jail in Qatar in April for causing the death of their adopted daughter Gloria, sit together ahead of a meeting with U.S. ambassador to Qatar Dana Shell Smith in Doha, October 19, 2014. REUTERS/Fadi Al-Assaad

A Qatari appeals court overturned the convictions of Matthew and Grace Huang on Sunday over the death of their 8-year-old daughter, Gloria, after finding that a lower court had made errors in the case.

But the U.S. couple’s passports were seized at Doha airport as they sought to leave the Gulf Arab state, and they were told a new arrest warrant had been issued, a family spokesman said.

Secretary of State John Kerry swiftly issued a statement saying he was deeply concerned over the complications and called on Qatari officials to allow the Huangs to return home.

On Monday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters that the U.S. ambassador to Qatar had visited with the couple on Sunday and had been in touch with Qatari officials to get the travel ban lifted.

Family spokesman Eric Volz said in a statement: “We continue to plead with the U.S. Ambassador to Qatar Dana Smith, the Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama to call the Emir of Qatar to free these two innocent American citizens.

“It is important to note that all the proper paperwork has been filed to allow them to leave Qatar,” he said.

On Monday a lawyer for the couple filed an application requesting the travel ban be lifted, Volz added. The application was presented to the attorney general’s office in Doha, he said.

The Huangs were arrested in January 2013 after an autopsy found their daughter died of “cachexia and dehydration.” Cachexia is an irreversible loss of body mass.

They were charged with “murder with intent by forced starvation” and convicted in April.

The couple said Gloria had suffered from malnutrition-related diseases since they adopted her from Ghana at age 4.

A website created to publicize the case said the Huangs had moved to Qatar so Matthew, a Stanford-trained engineer, could work on a project related to the 2022 World Cup.

Reporting by Dan Whitcomb and William Maclean; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Eric Beech and Mark Trevelyan

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