Doha (AFP) — A Qatari court on Thursday sentenced a U.S. couple from Los Angeles to three years in prison for causing the death of their adopted eight-year-old daughter.
Matthew and Grace Huang were arrested in January 2013 after their daughter Gloria from an orphanage in Ghana died. They were accused of causing her death in order to sell her organs.
The court also ordered the couple to pay a fine of 15,000 riyals (4,100 dollars) each and to be deported after serving their sentence.
But upon reading the verdict, the judge did not specify the exact charges for which the Huangs were convicted.
The couple, who say the child had an eating disorder, called on U.S. President Barack Obama, who visits neighboring Saudi Arabia on Friday, to intervene in the case.
They have two weeks to appeal.
“We have just been wrongfully convicted and we feel as if we are being kidnapped by the Qatar judicial system,” Matthew Huang said in a statement read to reporters outside the court.
“This verdict is wrong and appears to be nothing more than an effort to save face,” he said.
“We are calling on United States President Obama to call the head of state in Qatar and explain to him why American families adopt high-needs children,” said Huang.
He said the ruling must be “overturned immediately and we should be allowed to go home.”
Defense lawyer Eric Volz said the case was left in confusion and the charge unclear.
“The judge literally read a couple of sentences. There wasn’t much explanation given. There’s still a lot of confusion as to how this is happening,” he said, adding that “the judge did not specify for what crime he was sentencing them.”
“We are asking how can someone be sentenced without being convicted?”
“As far as we know they’ve not been ordered to go back to prison but we also were not told that they are not going back to prison,” said Volz, adding that the couple were very scared and awaiting clarification from the court.
The lawyer said the couple “came to the court thinking that they would be declared innocent. Matt and Grace even had plane tickets already paid for.”
“They thought they were gonna go home and be with their sons.”
The couple of Asian origin were released in November pending trial, but the court denied their request to leave the country to join their other two adopted children in the United States.
The public prosecutor pushed for the death penalty for the Huangs.
Both adoption and multiracial families are rare in Qatar, a conservative Gulf Arab emirate.
The family’s supporters maintain Qatari authorities misunderstood the Huangs’ situation and found it suspicious.
The “Free Grace and Matt” website said police accuse the couple of having adopted the children “in order to harvest their organs, or perhaps to perform medical experiments on them.”
Gloria, their daughter, had “an eating disorder, a legacy of her impoverished childhood in Ghana, in which she would sometimes fast, binge-eat or steal food,” the website says.
The Huangs moved to Qatar in 2012 for Matthew, an engineer, to work on infrastructure projects linked to the 2022 football World Cup.
Their supporters describe them as a loving family and say they have collected supporting testimony from people who knew them in Qatar, which authorities declined to accept.
afp.com / Karim Jaafar