Qatar court overturns conviction of American- Chinese parents in death of adopted girl

Matthew (left) and Grace Huang, a US couple charged with parental neglect leading to the death of their adopted daughter, talk to journalists after being acquitted by a Qatari appeals court on Nov 30, 2014 in Doha. Matthew and Grace Huang were arrest
Matthew (left) and Grace Huang, a US couple charged with parental neglect leading to the death of their adopted daughter, talk to journalists after being acquitted by a Qatari appeals court on Nov 30, 2014 in Doha. Matthew and Grace Huang were arrested in January 2013 after the death of their eight-year-old daughter Gloria, who had been adopted from an orphanage in Ghana. - (PHOTO: AFP)

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - An appeals court in Qatar on Sunday overturned the convictions of a Los Angeles couple who were sentenced to three years in jail for the death of their adopted African-born daughter, but the government was refusing to let the couple leave the country, a spokesman for the family said.

Matthew and Grace Huang were trying to return to the United States after the tribunal found the lower court had made numerous errors, family spokesman Eric Volz said. But as soon as they arrived at the airport in Doha, their passports were seized and they were told a new arrest warrant had been issued for them, Volz said.

The US State Department, which could not be reached for comment on Sunday, had a representative at the airport and was working to help the couple, Volz said.

"It's not over. It's escalating very quickly," Volz said."This is a showdown."

A representative of the Qatari government could not be reached immediately.

The Huangs were arrested in January 2013 after their 8-year-old daughter, Gloria, died unexpectedly.

An autopsy found that the girl had died of "cachexia and dehydration," and a prosecutor charged the couple with "murder with intent by forced starvation." Cachexia is an irreversible loss of body mass. They were convicted in April.

The couple argued that Gloria had been suffering from malnutrition-related diseases since they adopted her from Ghana at the age of four, and that the Qatari authorities had failed to acknowledge this.

The US State Department has been working on the couple's behalf to appeal against the convictions. It had said that "cultural misunderstandings may have led to an unfair trial".

A website created to publicise the case ( http://freemattandgrace.com ) said Matthew Huang, a Stanford University-trained engineer, had moved to Qatar with his wife and their three young children in 2012 to help oversee a big infrastructure project related to the 2022 soccer World Cup.

Gloria died on Jan. 15, 2013, and Qatari police charged the couple the next day. The family's two other adopted children were placed in an orphanage initially, but have since returned to the United States.

The Huangs spent nearly a year in prison before being released on their own recognisance, awaiting appeal.