In 2012, Matthew and Grace Huang left Los
Angeles with their three young children for Qatar, where Matthew, an engineer,
would oversee an infrastructure project related to the 2022 World Cup. But what
had been an exciting journey abroad turned to tragedy the following year when
the couple's 8-year-old daughter, Gloria, fell ill and died. And that's
when the Huangs' story went from heart-wrenching to bizarre.
Qatari authorities claimed that the Americans
maliciously starved Gloria -- who was adopted from Ghana -- and deliberately let her die.
The Huangs maintained that their daughter suffered from an eating disorder,
which caused her to fast and binge, due to her malnourishment during her
childhood in Africa. Moreover, the couple posits that the case against them is
based on misunderstandings about multiracial and adopted families. In addition
to Gloria, the Huangs have two sons adopted from Africa.
The Huangs have languished in a Qatari jail
since March 27.
On Wednesday, Wendy Sherman, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political
affairs, met with representatives of the family. In a statement,
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the U.S. government is working
toward their release. "We seek the Qatari government's assistance in providing
a fair and expeditious conclusion to the proceedings," Harf said.
The case against the Huangs was curious from the
beginning and raised serious questions about Qatar's treatment of minorities.
Not only did the couple stand accused of their daughter's murder, but the
Qatari police investigator also claimed that the couple had obtained their children
through human trafficking, despite their valid adoption certificates. He
further alleged that the Huangs intended to sell their daughter's organs on the
In prosecuting the couple, Qatari authorities
relied heavily on anonymous sources, and observers of the Huangs' prosecution
contend that some of the evidence against the couple was doctored. According to
the California Innocence
Project, a legal assistance
organization, Qatari police fabricated evidence by relying on anonymous sources
for the trafficking charges, and the methodology of the pathology report on
Gloria was deeply flawed.
By any standard, the Huangs are an
unconventional family, and their decision to adopt children from Africa appears
to have inflamed prejudices in the Gulf nation. During
the trial, Qatari prosecutors asked why defendants of Asian heritage would
adopt African children, with one "expert" witness saying: "The deceased
girl was black from Africa with a plump figure, while the parents have wheaten
or white complexion. Those who adopt normally choose beautiful children." Their
sons were originally placed in a Qatari orphanage following the Huangs' arrest,
but now live with their grandmother in the United States.
Despite the many holes in the prosecution's
case, the Huangs were convicted in March -- though on exactly what charge
remains unclear -- and sentenced to three years in jail.
Sherman will see more success in winning the family's freedom than in her
efforts to secure a nuclear deal with Iran remains to be seen.
KARIM JAAFAR/AFP/Getty Images