Silence broken on case of American couple charged with murder in Qatar

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More than six months after an American couple was jailed in Qatar over the death of their daughter, a public appeal has been launched to raise awareness about their case.

Last month, Matt and Grace Huang appeared in a lower Doha court and were formally charged with murdering their eight-year-old daughter Gloria, who died in January.

If convicted, they could face the death sentence, although Qatar has maintained a moratorium on actual executions for more than a decade.

Friends and family of the Huangs had initially launched a Facebook group in support of the couple in January, but quickly took it down to avoid negative publicity.

Since then, several people close to the Huangs have expressed knowledge of the case but declined to be interviewed by Doha News, as did the US Embassy, citing the couple’s privacy concerns.

But this week, it was announced that the accused, who hail from Los Angeles, have had their case picked up by the California Innocence Project, a program run by the California Western School of Law that works to clear people who have been charged with crimes they didn’t commit.

The CIP, which usually focuses on US cases but made an exception for the Huangs, has launched a website with the David House International Crisis agency and American law firm Lewis and Roca to refute the accusations against the couple. 

What happened

According to the website, the Huangs, an American couple of Asian descent, moved to Qatar last year with their three children, who were adopted from Ghana and Uganda.

Matt Huang worked as a supervising engineer on a water purification and recycling project related to 2022 World Cup infrastructure building. His wife, who has a master’s degree in education, home-schooled the children, aged 6, 8 and 9 years old.

On Jan. 15, 2013, their daughter Gloria suddenly died, of causes that still remain unknown, although the couple admits she had not eaten in four days.

The Huangs was taken into custody by police the next day, and have been held on separate floors of the same detention facility since then. Their sons were briefly put into Qatar’s orphanage, but are now in the care of their grandmother, and are not allowed to leave the country.

According to the CIP’s website, an autopsy of Gloria’s body ruled out death by poisoning or bodily trauma. A medical examiner testified in court that Gloria appeared emaciated and died of “wasting,” which could be interpreted as starvation, or also mean she suffered from cachexia, in which disease caused her body to waste away. 

The Huangs deny starving their daughter, saying that she had an eating disorder related to living the first four years of her life in extreme poverty, and she would sometimes go days without food and then binge eat. CIP suggests that the disorder may have weakened her heart, making her more vulnerable to stroke, seizure, or cardiac arrest.

‘Suspicious’ adoptions

The case against the Huangs, who have also been accused but not yet charged with human trafficking, appears to involve cultural misunderstandings about their decision to adopt from Ghana.

According to the CIP: 

“The Huangs’ adoption of three black children is suspicious, the Qatari police have claimed, ‘since the main reasons, when buying a child, must be that they are good-looking and well-behaved, or have hereditary features that are similar to those of the parents.  But in this case, on the contrary, the children connected to the incident are all from Africa.’ 

The website adds that another factor at play is police interviews with a number of unnamed sources questioning the couple’s parenting abilities. According to those sources:

“The Huangs were ‘mysterious’ and kept to themselves, were ‘stingy’ with their children, the children did not have decent clothes or toys, and that Gloria disappeared about 8-10 days prior to her death.”

The couple have denied all of these allegations, and are scheduled to reappear in court after the summer break.

Thoughts?

Credit: Photo courtesy of California Innocence Project

Note: This article has been corrected to reflect that the Huangs’ children hail from two African countries, not one.