An appeals court in Qatar on Sunday threw out charges against a Los Angeles couple who had been accused in the death of their adopted daughter, but hours later the couple's nearly two-year ordeal was extended when they were denied permission to leave the country.
A family representative who is traveling with them, Eric Volz, tweeted from the Qatar airport that Grace and Matthew Huang had been prevented from passing immigration control. American diplomats were trying to help clear the couple's departure. The U.S. ambassador, Dana Shell Smith, had gone to the airport to see them off.
The couple's case, closely watched by rights groups and others, raised questions about the judiciary system in the wealthy Persian Gulf state and cast a spotlight on its conservative social mores. Advocates for the couple said their interracial adoption of an African child, Gloria, was cast by Qatari prosecutors as a possible case of human trafficking.
The Huangs were convicted on child-endangerment charges in the January 2013 death of their 8-year-old, the ruling that was overturned on Sunday. The couple initially spent months in jail but were allowed to remain under house arrest during part of the lengthy appeal process.
The couple had strongly maintained their innocence and presented medical evidence that Gloria, who came from a deeply impoverished background, suffered from an eating disorder that led to her death.
The Huangs have been separated from their two other African-born adopted children, who were returned to the United States to stay with relatives.
"It has been a long and emotional trial for me and my family, and Grace and I want to go home and be reunited with our sons," the Associated Press quoted Matthew Huang as saying after the couple was cleared of the charges. "We have been unable to grieve our daughter."
In a statement, Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed the appeals court's decision, but said he was "deeply concerned" about delays keeping the Huangs from leaving Qatar.
Kerry said the court's findings "clearly establish the Huangs' innocence."
He said he spoke to Qatar's foreign minister and called on the emirate to allow the Americans to return home without further delay.
The case has been a sensitive one because of tiny Qatar's strategic importance to the United States. It is the site of a major American air base, and it has played a role in strikes being carried out against the Sunni militants of the Islamic State, who have seized large swaths of Iraq and Syria.
Controversy has arisen over harsh Qatari labor practices as it prepares to host the 2022 World Cup. The government has promised reforms meant to stem abuse of workers, many of them from South Asia.
Times staff writer Paul Richter in Washington contributed to this report.