Matthew and Grace Huang
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Detained: January 16, 2013
Status: Released/ Exonerated
The Huang’s case in Qatar is one of the clearest examples of peripheral issues being the biggest enemy of justice, including: racism, cultural misperceptions, religious differences, prosecutorial misconduct, opaque legal processes, and complex domestic and international politics. This is a monumental case because it also clearly demonstrates the impact that geopolitical factors on the periphery can have on a private citizen case.
Thus far, the US Government has been unwilling to take a clear and strong stand on behalf of the Huangs. It has refrained from applying significant political pressure on Qatar to ensure rule of law for this innocent American family. The question is why. Shedding light on this question is the fact that the Huangs’ ordeal occurred during a period of close relations and interdependencies between the US and Qatar—possibly limiting the US Government’s willingness to take a strong stand. The contextual backdrop of US-Qatar interdependencies during this period included factors such as: the US was relying on Qatar as a third party to negotiate the Bowe Bergdahl Taliban 5 prisoner exchange and an Israel-Hamas cease fire. Qatar was (and remains) host of the US’ most strategic military post in the Middle East—its forward-operating base for Middle East operations, located just 40 miles outside of Doha. Also during this period, the US Department of Defense was engaged in negotiating what turned out to be an $11 billion arms deal with the Qatar government.
These factors illuminate the dilemma of balancing US regional security issues with protection for the rights and safety of Americans. Considering this context, the US Government welcomed the involvement of the David House Agency, as a private advocate that would have increased lateral mobility and an ability to negotiate directly with Qatari officials.
Grace and Matthew Huang, are an American couple from Los Angeles who are being wrongfully imprisoned by the judicial system of Qatar in the Middle East. In 2012, Matthew relocated to Qatar, with his wife and their three adopted children, to work on a 2022 World Cup infrastructure project for his American engineering firm, MWH Global. On January 15, 2013, their 8-year-old daughter Gloria tragically and unexpectedly died. Matthew and Grace were almost immediately imprisoned by Qatari officials under suspicion of human trafficking and intentionally starving Gloria to death. Their two sons were taken into custody and forced to live in a government orphanage.
The couple legally adopted their three children from Ghana and Uganda using a reputable agency and obtaining all required paperwork. Their daughter, Gloria, was adopted in 2009 from an orphanage in Ghana. She was only four years old when she was adopted, but due to her impoverished upbringing in Ghana she had chronic eating disorders typical of a special needs child of her background. Gloria would refuse to eat for several days then binge eat and rummage through trashcans for food.
On January 15, 2013, in the midst of one of her hunger strikes, her father Matthew Haung found on her bedroom floor. She was cold and foaming from the mouth, but still breathing. Gloria was rushed to the hospital where doctors performed CPR. Gloria was pronounced dead after forty minutes in the emergency room. At the time, the family was told the cause of death was cardiac arrest.
Gloria had shown no signs of illness, trauma, or violence, but Matthew and Grace Huang were arrested the day after their daughter’s death. The Huang’s two other children were put in an orphanage. Prosecutors accused the couple of trafficking their adopted children with the intent of selling their organs.
“…Those who adopt normally choose beautiful children.” –Qatari Police Witness
The Huang family, an unconventional one by Qatari standards, was scrutinized by prosecutors and investigators. The Huangs, who are of Chinese decent, were asked why they did not adopt “good-looking” kids and why the children did not share their hereditary traits. When the prosecutor asked his first witness whether there was a connection between the murder charge and the allegations of organ harvesting the witness responded, “There could be a connection…Those who adopt normally choose beautiful children.” Police investigators testified that “secret” sources told them the Huangs were mysterious and reclusive and that Gloria had disappeared in the days leading up to her death. Contrarily, the defense presented witnesses who actually knew Matthew and Grace and their three children, witnesses who have traveled with the family and shared meals with them. They testified as to how well Matthew and Grace cared for and loved their children.
The scientific evidence presented by the prosecution was flawed. Investigators theorized Gloria had died of starvation or dehydration. Though it is still unknown what caused Gloria’s death, experts, including one of the worlds leading forensic pathologists Dr. Janice Ophoven, have established scientific proof that it is medically impossible that Gloria died of by starvation or dehydration. Witnesses saw Gloria walking around the day before her death. This would be impossible for a child a day away from starving to death. Gloria also had urine in her bladder, disproving the dehydration theory.
“the Qatari medical examiner did not perform a complete medical examination.”
When Gloria’s body was returned to the U.S., a second pathologist was hired to examine her body and noted tissue samples had not been taken from her brain or major organs proving the Qatari medical examiner did not perform a complete medical examination. In addition, US experts were alarmed to learn The Qatari medical examiner did not test Gloria’s fluids, urine, or blood to assess her dehydration level, nor were they aware of Gloria’s medical history when conducting the autopsy. Since a complete autopsy had not been done in Qatar, several causes of death had not been ruled out before the prosecutor charged the Huangs with murder by starvation.
Despite the lack of evidence, a request to drop the charges was rejected, as was a request for bail. It was not until the Huangs spent nearly a year in custody that they were released on their own recognizance. However, they still faced murder charges and were banned from traveling. Their two boys were also finally able to leave Qatar. They are being taken care of by their grandmother in Washington State.
Despite the racial prejudices, false and unreliable testimony, and incomplete and fabricated medical reports, the Huangs were each sentenced to three years imprisonment, followed by deportation, and a fine of $4,100. The judge did not even tell them what they were found guilty at the sentencing hearing. It was not until weeks after the couple’s conviction that they were told they were found guilty of child endangerment, not what they had originally been charged and tried with.
Multiple international experts have called for the Huang’s release. Their innocence has long been supported by the California Innocence Project, their case managers The David House Agency, and their defense team from Lewis Roca Rothgerber. Additionally, the United Nations has called for their travel ban to be lifted and the US Department of State has shown concern over the verdict. The New York Times has extensively covered the case with over a dozen feature articles and has even reported on the geopolitical aspects, including a July 2014 article entitled “U.S. Seeks Release of Couple in Qatar, Creating Tensions With a Crucial Arab Ally”.
CURRENT STATUS / AFTERMATH
The Huangs have appealed their verdict. While they remain free from prison, they are still not able to travel. This contradicts a previous case in Qatar where five people were convicted of causing a fire, which killed nineteen people, including thirteen children, but the defendants were still able to travel internationally during their appeal.
On November 30, 2014 the Huang’s case was dismissed and they were pronounced innocent. Despite being told they could leave Qatar, they were turned away at the airport. On December 3, 2014 the Huangs were able to leave Qatar and reunite with their sons.