- Associated Press - Monday, December 1, 2014

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - An American couple cleared by a Qatari appeals court of wrongdoing in the death of their 8-year-old adopted daughter but blocked from leaving the country held out hope Monday that they would soon be allowed to leave the tiny Gulf nation. A family representative, meanwhile, blasted the continued travel ban against the two as “institutional kidnapping.”

On Sunday, the court in Qatar overturned a child endangerment conviction against Matthew and Grace Huang of Los Angeles over the death of their daughter, Gloria, and said they were free to leave the energy-rich OPEC nation.

But they were stopped at the airport hours later as they tried to depart, despite efforts by the U.S. ambassador herself to intervene.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed the decision to overturn the Huangs’ conviction but said the United States was “deeply concerned about new delays that have prevented their departure.”

Kerry spoke Sunday with Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah and urged the government to immediately implement the court’s decision and allow the family to return to the U.S. “without further delay,” according to a press statement.

Qatari officials have not commented on the verdict or the continued travel ban against the couple. A brief statement carried by the official Qatar News Agency noted the foreign minister’s call with Kerry but said only that the two men “exchanged views on a number of topics of common interest.”

Eric Volz, managing director of the David House Agency, a crisis-management firm that is coordinating legal and publicity efforts for the family, told The Associated Press that the Huangs have been informed by the U.S. government that a number of procedural steps must still be completed before they can depart.

“We really are hopeful and doing everything we can to get out of here,” Volz said by phone from the Qatari capital, Doha. “The family feels they are being ping-ponged around.”

Volz described the couple’s predicament as “institutional kidnapping” and accused powers inside Qatar of influencing and obstructing the judicial process.

It was unclear, however, if the couple had secured all the paperwork needed to satisfy authorities that they could leave.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday that there was “some paperwork that needs to be filed” before the Huangs are allowed to leave Qatar.

“While the case was overturned, the travel ban was not yet overturned,” Psaki said, adding that the U.S. was working with all relevant officials to resolve this. She said the Obama administration wants to see the Huangs “returned to the United States as quickly as possible.”

Psaki also said the U.S. ambassador to Qatar, Dana Shell Smith, met with the Huangs on Sunday and has been in touch with Qatari authorities to secure their release.

The Huangs were arrested in January 2013 on murder charges following the death of their adopted daughter, Gloria, who was born in Ghana. They spent months in jail before being released on their own recognizance in November 2013, and then were convicted on a lesser charge of child endangerment and sentenced to three years in prison in March of this year.

The Huangs, who also have two African-born adopted sons, have not been allowed to leave the country since their arrest.

The case has raised concerns about whether cultural biases may have influenced the investigation. Western-style adoptions and cross-cultural families are rare in Qatar, and a report by Qatari police earlier raised questions about why the Huangs, who are of Asian descent, would adopt children who did not share their “hereditary traits.” It also suggested that the children could have been part of a human trafficking operation or were bought for organ harvesting, according to the family’s website.

The Huangs have maintained their innocence and say their daughter suffered from medical problems complicated by unusual eating habits that included periods of binging and self-starvation. Prosecutors alleged she died after being denied food and locked in her room.

The couple has made no public comment since shortly after their court hearing Sunday. Matthew Huang said then that he and his wife were looking forward to being reunited with their sons.

“It has been a long and emotional trial for me and my family,” he said shortly after the ruling.


AP National Security Writer Lara Jakes contributed to this report from Washington.

Follow Adam Schreck on Twitter at www.twitter.com/adamschreck.

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