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American Couple Detained In Qatar Allowed To Return Home

Shortly before they left Qatar on Wednesday, Grace and Matthew Huang spoke with Dana Shell Smith, the U.S. ambassador to Qatar, at the Hamad International Airport in Doha.
Osama Faisal
Shortly before they left Qatar on Wednesday, Grace and Matthew Huang spoke with Dana Shell Smith, the U.S. ambassador to Qatar, at the Hamad International Airport in Doha.

Matthew and Grace Huang, an American couple who had been forced to remain in Qatar over the death of their adopted 8-year old daughter in 2013, have left the country en route to the United States.

On Sunday, an appeals court cleared the Huangs of all charges in their daughter's death, but as they arrived at the Hamad International Airport in Doha later that day to fly home to California, the couple were detained again. Qatari authorities said another appeal had been filed in their case and that they could not travel.

That travel ban was lifted Wednesday.

In a statement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry applauded the couple's release:

"The Attorney General of the State of Qatar has informed the U.S. Embassy in Qatar that no further appeal will be filed in the case of Matthew and Grace Huang. At the opening of business on Wednesday December 3, the travel ban will be lifted and Mr. and Mrs. Huang will be free to travel."

The Huangs had been living in the Qatari capital of Doha since 2012, when Matthew Huang took an engineering job there. In January 2013, their daughter, Gloria, died after refusing to eat for days. The Huangs were charged with murder. During their trial, one Qatari prosecutor suggested the couple starved their daughter to traffick her or sell her organs. The Huangs spent several months in a Qatari prison and were sentenced to three years in prison in March. They weren't detained during their appeal, but they were not allowed to leave the country. Meanwhile, their two other adopted children were sent to live with relatives in the U.S.

According to the California Innocence Project, which assisted the Huangs in fighting their detention, Gloria had trouble absorbing nutrients from food, was malnourished and had had giardia, a parasitic condition, since the Huangs adopted her from Ghana at the age of 4.

The California Innocence Project also says of Gloria:

"From time to time she would exhibit an eating disorder — common among children with backgrounds similar to hers — where she would refuse food for days at a time and then eat more than an adult. Other times she would eat food from the garbage even when she had healthy food available."

As the couple fought for their release, Matthew Huang told Yahoo News that suspicions were racially motivated. "I believe that authorities in Qatar suspected foul play because we are Asian and we adopted three children from Africa who are black," he told Yahoo's Katie Couric. "This country does not understand adoptions."

The Associated Press reports the U.S. ambassador to Qatar, Dana Shell Smith, had accompanied the Huangs on Wednesday "to ensure they cleared passport control and reached their departure gate." Smith told the news service, "We feel relieved. We feel gratitude to the legal system in the state of Qatar, which after some time worked as a good legal system should."

A representative for the family, Eric Volz, tweeted earlier today, "Thank you to all the silent heroes on this one. Wheels are up."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sam Sanders is a correspondent and host of It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders at NPR. In the show, Sanders engages with journalists, actors, musicians, and listeners to gain the kind of understanding about news and popular culture that can only be reached through conversation. The podcast releases two episodes each week: a "deep dive" interview on Tuesdays, as well as a Friday wrap of the week's news.
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