Doha: An American couple cleared on Sunday by a Qatari appeals court of wrongdoing in the death of their adopted daughter has been barred from leaving the Middle Eastern country just hours after they were told they were free to go.
Matthew and Grace Huang were stopped from exiting the conservative Gulf nation and had their passports confiscated as they tried to pass through airport immigration control in the capital, Doha, said family representative Eric Volz, who is traveling with them. The unexpected delay adds a new twist to a closely watched legal saga that may have stemmed from cultural misunderstandings in the conservative Gulf nation.
The Los Angeles couple had been banned from leaving the energy-rich OPEC nation while their case made its way through the courts, but the appeals court ruled Sunday they were free to leave after the presiding judge overturned a child endangerment conviction against them.
They were met at the airport by US Ambassador Dana Shell Smith, reflecting the intensity of American government interest in the case.
The Huangs spent months behind bars before being let out on their own recognizance last November. They were convicted in March of this year of child endangerment and sentenced to three years in prison. They were allowed to remain free pending their appeal.
A doctor in Qatar who conducted Gloria's autopsy determined that dehydration and wasting disease were the cause of death. The Huangs have maintained their innocence and say 8-year-old Gloria 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 Huangs have two other African-born adopted children and have been pressing Qatari officials unsuccessfully for permission to leave the country to be with them.
"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," Matthew Huang said shortly after the ruling. "We have been unable to grieve our daughter."
Matthew Huang had been working in the booming nation as part of infrastructure improvements for Qatar's hosting of the 2022 World Cup.
US officials intervened on the couple's behalf by raising the case with Qatari officials on multiple occasions. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki last month urged Qatar to lift the Huangs' travel ban immediately and bring the case to "an expeditious and just conclusion."
Qatar also hosts an important American military air operations center near Doha that is involved in airstrikes against the Islamic State group.