An American couple facing three years in Qatar jail after the death of their eight-year-old daughter returned to a local appeals court today, hoping for the lifting of a travel ban against them.
But despite strong urging from the US, Matt and Grace Huang will remain in Qatar at least until their appeals verdict is heard on Nov. 30.
After not eating for four days, the Huangs’ daughter Gloria died suddenly in January 2013. The couple was arrested shortly after that and held for nearly a year, until a judge ordered their release pending a verdict in the murder trial.
The Huangs adopted Gloria from Ghana when she was four years old. Because she spent her early years in poverty, the child was fighting an eating disorder that caused her to binge on food and then refuse to eat for several days at a time, they said.
In March, the judge sentenced the Huangs to three years in jail for child endangerment, a sentence they do not have to serve until the appeals process is finished.
But progress on the case has been slow. This is the third time the couple has appeared in the appellate court over the past six months. However, today they had a translator, unlike in some previous sessions.
This morning’s session, which was attended by a number of international and local journalists, was tense.
In an uncharacteristic outburst, Matthew Huang shouted at the prosecutor in the courtroom as the official outlined his case against the couple, saying “You lie! You lie!”
While the Huangs are seeking a dismissal of this case, the prosecutor has been pushing for the couple to be given a harsher sentence during the appeal.
In the past, the court representative has repeatedly accused the Huangs of trafficking Gloria and their two adopted sons in a bid to sell their organs. But today, an appeals judge instructed him not to raise the issue again, as it was not related to the case.
The judge also cut short the defense’s questions.
Also this morning, a forensic doctor who examined the deceased’s body was recalled to the stand. He reiterated testimony that Gloria’s body was emaciated, and appeared to be weak and dehydrated.
He also contradicted previous forensic testimony, saying that Gloria did not have any water in her bladder or food in her intestine.
However, he did not respond affirmatively when the prosecutor asked if the child had been starved to death, saying it wasn’t his job to reach such conclusions.
Previously, a US pathologist who examined Gloria’s body when it was returned home questioned the validity of the Qatar-based examiner’s report, saying he found no evidence that tissue samples had been removed from her brain or major organs in Qatar, meaning no analysis could have actually been performed.
Meanwhile, no mention was made of the travel ban the couple has been under since Gloria’s death.
In a statement issued on Oct. 6, the US State Department urged Qatar to lift that ban, so the Huangs could reunite with their two sons:
“The U.S. Government strongly urges that the Qatari Government immediately lift the travel ban and allow Mr. and Mrs. Huang to return to the United States on a humanitarian basis to be reunited with their children and family, pending the completion of legal proceedings. We continue to call on the Qatari Government to bring the case to an expeditious and just conclusion.”
Reacting to today’s session, Matthew Huang said:
“We feel kidnapped and trapped. It feels like there is no end to this. This court is a sham. They did not even allow our attorney to cross-examine the prosecutors witness. The Qatar government is ignoring the calls of the US government for our release.
I believe that the Emir has a heart for justice, but this is the fault of lower level authorities who refuse to admit they made mistakes and instead have resorting to lies and fabricating evidence.”