DOHA, Qatar — Matthew and Grace Huang, an American couple accused in the death of their daughter by depriving her of sustenance for four days, were each sentenced Thursday to three years in prison followed by deportation in a case that has drawn close attention.
The Huangs were allowed to leave the courtroom after the verdict, and their lawyer said they would appeal the judgment.
Outside court, Matthew Huang, 37, with his wife, 36, by his side, said: “We have just been wrongfully convicted and we feel as if we are being kidnapped by the Qatar judicial system. This verdict is wrong and appears to be nothing more than an effort to save face. … This verdict should be overturned immediately and we should be allowed to go home.”
The Huangs, of Los Angeles, have denied wrongdoing and said they were victims of a gross miscarriage of justice. They said their daughter, Gloria, whom they had adopted from Ghana, had an eating disorder formed during an impoverished childhood in Africa, which sometimes led her to fast, binge or steal food. Friends of the family said that Gloria, 8, and two sons the couple had also adopted from Africa had seemed healthy and happy.
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The couple had already spent 11 months in detention before being released on their own recognizance in November. The sentence — but not the verdict — was read out to a packed courtroom Thursday. The exact charge for which the two were convicted was not clear.
The precise cause of the child’s death remains uncertain. But the Huangs, their lawyers and supporters have said the case has revealed what they called deeply ingrained prejudices in Qatar about adoption and multiracial families, leading to the presumption that the girl must have been abused.
The family was living in Doha because Matthew Huang, an engineer, had been working on the city’s water and sewage systems.
The case began in January 2013, when the Huangs were arrested and jailed on murder charges after taking their unconscious daughter to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead. The couple’s two boys, now 8 and 12, were temporarily placed in an orphanage but a judge later gave Grace Huang’s mother, who lives in Washington state, custody.
The prosecution demanded the death penalty, alleging that the couple had denied food to Gloria and said she was locked in her room at night.
A Qatari doctor who conducted Gloria’s autopsy found that the child’s hips, ribs and spine protruded and concluded the cause of death was dehydration and wasting disease.
The trial was followed closely by the U.S. Embassy because the United States considers Qatar an important ally. The nation’s biggest military base in the Middle East is in Qatar, and dozens of U.S. corporations and organizations operate in Qatar.
Prosecutors initially based part of their case on the suggestion that the Huangs may have been child traffickers, questioning in court how people of Asian descent could possibly want African children.
In his statement, Matthew Huang said: “The prosecutor accused us of trafficking our legally adopted children with the intent of selling their organs. That is how ridiculous this is.”
He continued: “We are calling on the United States President Obama to call the head of state in Qatar and explain to him why American families adopt high-needs children.”
The couple will remain free during the appeal, their lawyer, Sami Abu Shaikha, said, and if their conviction is upheld, the 11 months they spent in detention last year will be taken off the sentence.