By Grant Wahl
November 09, 2013

The Huang family The Huang family (from left to right: Grace, Gloria, Emmanuel, and Matthew) moved to Qatar to be involved in preparations for the 2022 World Cup. (Photo courtesy of the California Innocence Project)

When Matthew and Grace Huang, an American couple from Los Angeles, brought their three adopted children to live in Qatar in July 2012, they were looking forward to the chance to be involved in preparations for World Cup 2022 in that country.

“Matt was really excited that his company had a project here basically building the infrastructure of water management for the World Cup in Qatar,” Grace’s brother, Daniel Chin, told me from Doha this week. “His sons are huge soccer fans … He knew this World Cup was an amazing opportunity for the country, and he was excited to be part of it.”

The Huangs’ stay in Qatar has turned into a nightmare, however. Their eight-year-old daughter, Gloria, died last January, and Qatari authorities have accused the Huangs of starving her to death with the intent of selling her organs.

The Huangs deny those charges, saying there is no evidence and that Gloria -- a special-needs child born in Africa, like the Huangs’ two sons -- had an eating disorder from her days growing up in Ghana. Their defense team adds that the case is an extreme example of the Qatari system lacking due process, using faulty investigative techniques and being prejudiced against multicultural families in a country where adoption is extremely rare.

Qatari police investigators wrote that the Huangs, devout Christians who home-schooled their children, “participated with others in child trafficking, most likely to either sell their organs or to conduct medical experiments on them,” as the New York Times noted in a story this week.

In a February pre-trial hearing, a Qatari investigator was asked about proof of child trafficking and said: “The adoption process consists of searching for children who are good-looking and well-behaved, and who have hereditary features that are similar to those of the parents. But the children connected to this incident are all from Africa, and most of the families there are indigent.”

Through four pre-trial hearings, the Huangs’ lawyers were not allowed to present their side of the story to the Qatari judge. On Wednesday that finally happened, and the Huangs were temporarily released from prison, though the murder charges remain and they are not allowed to leave Qatar in advance of the next scheduled hearing on December 3.

“They had been in prison for nine-and-a-half months, or 295 days,” said Chin, who arrived in Qatar to support his family this week. He added that the Huangs had almost no contact with each other in prison and very little with people on the outside. Their sons were only recently allowed to be taken back to the U.S. by Grace Huang’s mother.

“As you can imagine, we are relieved they are out of prison,” said Chin. “The first thing they did is they called their sons, which was wonderful, and they spoke to them for quite a while … But this is still a very serious situation. The trial is not over. They’re still being accused of murder, so we have to work through the court system to prove their innocence.”

“The investigative process has been very different [from the U.S.], just navigating the cultural nuances as well as the fact that adoption-related issues are very foreign to people here,” Chin went on. “Also, Matthew and Grace are Christians, and as part of their faith, values and service, they knowingly adopted three special-needs children. So on top of all these adoption things, to adopt special-needs children is seen [by the Qatari system] as particularly odd.”

Wednesday’s temporary release came after character witnesses testified about the Huang’s child-rearing history and the practice of home-schooling in the U.S. Another witness testified that Gloria had seemed healthy just a few days before her death. A child starvation specialist also provided supporting testimony for the Huangs. “One cannot medically diagnose that a child was intentionally starved to death if the child was seen functioning and walking just a day before dying,” Dr. Janice Ophoven wrote in a statement to the court.

Chin said the U.S. government has been involved with the case but did not elaborate. The case has also been taken up by the California Innocence Project and the David House Agency, U.S.-based organizations that seek to publicize wrongful imprisonments and help clients in legal cases overseas, respectively.

“We want to see their names cleared of this crime they’re being accused of that they did not commit,” said Chin. “We want to make sure that the truth prevails. [Wednesday] was obviously a very good step in the right direction … We are ready for Matt and Grace to be home in the States and for this whole nightmare to be over.”

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