With reporting from Riham Sheble
Updated at 8:10pm with information about lifting of travel ban
A travel ban that has preventing Matthew and Grace Huang from leaving Qatar after they were cleared of a criminal conviction this week is being lifted imminently, according to the US Ambassador to the country.
In a tweet posted this evening, Dana Shell Smith said:
Update: just informed by GoQ that all requirements met, no further appeal, travel ban to be lifted. Huangs can go tomorrow.
— CdA Natalie A. Baker (@USAmbQatar) December 2, 2014
The Huangs’ family spokesman has yet to comment on the lifting of the ban, only confirming that they’ve received the news from Shell Smith.
Last night, US Secretary of State John Kerry also weighed in, saying in a statement:
“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 United States applauds this decision, and we look forward to seeing the Huangs reunited with their children at home.”
The Huangs have been prohibited from exiting Qatar since being charged in January 2013 in connection with the death of their eight-year-old daughter, Gloria.
Several hours later, they went to Hamad International Airport in at attempt to fly to the US but were stopped at immigration.
Yesterday, the US government characterized the delay as a procedural matter that is in the process of being resolved.
“We obviously weren’t aware of additional paperwork that was required,” US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told a press conference in Washington on Monday.
No new charges
Contrary to earlier comments made by a Huangs spokesperson, Psaki said there was nothing to suggest new charges had been filed against the Huangs or that authorities in Qatar had put up fresh barriers that barred the exonerated couple from leaving the county.
A legal source told Doha News on Sunday night that lifting a travel ban typically requires a formal application along with a copy of the court’s judgment. A separate source said yesterday that the Huangs did not make this submission until Monday afternoon.
Eric Volz – managing director the David House Agency, which is handling the Huang’s public relations – said in a Facebook post that Psaki’s suggestion that the team hadn’t filed the necessary paperwork was “100% false.”
When asked by Doha News yesterday about filing an application to lift the travel ban, Volz noted that it took less than an hour to lift a travel restriction on the Huangs’ two sons in October 2013.
This morning, he said on Twitter that he was still hopeful that authorities would imminently allow the Huangs to leave the country:
On Sunday, a judge tossed out a lower court’s conviction of the Huangs, saying there was “no evidence that they put the interests of the girl (their daughter) in harm’s way.”
Gloria died in January 2013 after not eating for four days. The young girl, who had been adopted from Ghana, suffered from an eating disorder that caused her to binge on food and then reject it for days.
While prosecutors said the Huangs should have sought medical attention for the eight-year-old before she collapsed, Matthew Huang said Gloria was still “lively and active” and that they expected her to come out of her “hunger strike” as she had done before.
The appeals judge cited testimony from acquaintances of the Huangs who said they saw Gloria playing at her house approximately 24 hours before her death as evidence that the Huangs provided extreme care – as well as food, education and recreation opportunities – to their children.
The judge also raised inconsistencies in forensic evidence presented to in court that failed to conclusively determine how Gloria died.