MIDDLE EAST

Qatar to lift travel ban on L.A. couple cleared in daughter's death

L.A. couple cleared to leave Qatar on Wednesday after being exonerated in 8-year-old daughter's death

Qatar’s government on Tuesday gave permission for a Los Angeles couple to leave for home, two days after an appeals court cleared them of charges in connection with the death of their 8-year-old daughter.

Matthew and Grace Huang were expected to leave for the United States on Wednesday, said the U.S. ambassador to the wealthy Persian Gulf state.

“All requirements met, no further appeal, travel ban to be lifted,” the U.S. envoy, Dana Shell Smith, wrote on Twitter Tuesday evening. “Huangs can go tomorrow.”

For the couple and their supporters, the travel ban was a nerve-racking 48-hour coda to a legal saga that had lasted nearly two years. The Huangs were stopped at the airport by immigration officials hours after the appeals court ruling Sunday, and supporters had feared that the move meant that charges against them might be revived in some form.

It was not immediately clear whether prosecutors had initially sought to bring further action against the Huangs, or whether the delay was merely a bureaucratic issue. Foreign residents of Qatar are generally required to submit complicated paperwork when leaving the country.

The case had received high-level attention from the Obama administration. After the court ruling, Secretary of State John F. Kerry had urged that the couple’s departure be expedited, and the State Department had earlier expressed hopes for a speedy resolution.

The couple’s ordeal began with the January 2013 death of their adopted daughter Gloria, who was born in Ghana. The Huangs’ lawyers said the child suffered from an eating disorder stemming from her impoverished upbringing, but Qatari prosecutors suggested the parents might have been engaged in human trafficking or wanted to sell the child’s organs, and alleged she had been deliberately starved.

The Huangs strongly maintained their innocence throughout.

The closely watched case spotlighted conservative social mores in Qatar, where interracial adoption is virtually unheard of. Convicted and sentenced to three-year jail terms, the Huangs spent months in prison before being freed on their own recognizance during the appeals process, but they were not permitted to leave Qatar.

They have had a lengthy separation from their two other children, also African-born, who were returned to the United States to live with relatives.

Matthew Huang, an engineer, had brought the family to Qatar after getting a job working on infrastructure related to Qatar’s planned hosting of the 2022 World Cup. Qatar has faced international criticism in connection with the bid, including accusations of brutal conditions for laborers working at the many construction sites associated with the project, and also allegations of corruption in the bidding process.

Qatari support has been important to the U.S.-led coalition confronting the Sunni militants of Islamic State. U.S. forces have use of a major air facility, and Qatar has played a supporting role in airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. However, the gas-rich OPEC state has also lent support to Islamist movements in the region, infuriating neighbors like Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Follow @LauraKingLAT on Twitter for news from the Middle East

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

2:33 p.m.: Updated throughout.

This post was first published at 9:11 a.m.

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