American Couple Detained In Qatar Remains In Limbo Melissa Block talks to Eric Volz, family representative for Matthew and Grace Huang, the American couple cleared by a Qatari appeals court in the death of their adopted daughter.
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American Couple Detained In Qatar Remains In Limbo

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American Couple Detained In Qatar Remains In Limbo

American Couple Detained In Qatar Remains In Limbo

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Matthew and Grace Huang thought they'd be on their way home to Los Angeles by now. Instead, their fate is once again in question. The Huangs moved to Qatar a couple of years ago with their three children, all adopted from Africa - two boys and a girl. In January of 2013, the girl, eight-year-old Gloria, died. And Matthew and Grace Huang were immediately arrested.

The Huangs spent nearly a year in a Qatari jail. Well, yesterday, an appeals court there cleared them of any wrongdoing related to the death. They thought that meant their freedom, but they haven't been able to leave the country.

Eric Volz is with an international crisis group called The David House Agency. He's with the Huangs in Qatar, and he told us that Qatari authorities were suspicious from the start of an Asian couple with African-born children.

ERIC VOLZ: Detectives, early on, really had a hard time accurately interpreting the facts of the case due to cultural differences. Matt and Grace are Chinese Americans. Adoption is illegal here so they immediately suspected foul play. And the police report cites that they were going to harvest an experiment with the children's organs. And so within 24 hours of Gloria's death, Matt and Grace were actually arrested, thrown in prison, and their two sons were forced to go live in an orphanage.

BLOCK: And those two sons are now, I believe, back home in the states.

VOLZ: Yeah. After about a year, they were released from the orphanage and then allowed to travel home where they are now being cared for by extended family back in the United States.

BLOCK: Has there ever been an explanation for why eight-year-old Gloria died?

VOLZ: Unfortunately, the autopsy that was performed here in Qatar was incredibly inadequate. In fact, it was almost amateur. The pathologist didn't take - for example, sampling major organs. He didn't test the blood. We were able to narrow down the possible causes of death to cardiac arrest or some sort of heart failure. What we do know for a fact is that Gloria did not starve to death like the Qatar prosecution claimed.

BLOCK: As I understand it, she had an eating disorder. She would sometimes refuse to eat.

VOLZ: Correct. A lot of the children that are adopted out traumatic and impoverished backgrounds have problems that revolve around food. Gloria was no exception. Gloria was on what we call a hunger strike at the time that she died. The fact that she hadn't eaten food certainly could have lowered her immune defenses, but that was not the cause of death.

BLOCK: Well, the Huangs served 11 months in prison, and yesterday in Qatar they were acquitted. They went to the airport. I gather they were escorted by the U.S. ambassador to Qatar, which gives some sense of how significant a case this has been. What happened when they got to the airport?

VOLZ: Yeah. I mean, this family has been on an emotional roller coaster in the last 24 hours. You know, they were overjoyed. They were calling family members. They spoke to their sons - told them they were coming home only to arrive at the airport and then have the airport officials not only tell them that they couldn't travel, but they also informed us that there was a new warrant for their arrest that had been issued. Their passports were confiscated, and it really turned into an international showdown right there in the airport.

BLOCK: And what happens now? I mean, the Secretary of State John Kerry has issued a strong statement expressing his deep concern over this. What's the status?

VOLZ: The U.S. government has not been applying pressure on this. I mean, this has gone for two years and the U.S. government hasn't applied enough pressure. And it's starting to feel like there isn't going to be the right amount of pressure applied. Some people are trying to point to normal bureaucratic process that might be to blame for this, but that's simply not true.

There are certainly ways that the U.S. government could make it clear to the Qatar government that it's not OK to do this to American citizens. So we don't know what they're doing. They're not sharing a lot of information with us. All we know is that Matt and Grace are being told they're not allowed to leave the country even though the courts here have spoken and declared them innocent.

BLOCK: You're with the Huangs now at a hotel near the airport in Doha, Mr. Volz, hoping to leave. What's their emotional state as they've gone through this?

VOLZ: Right now, they are just numb. The hardest thing is for me to watch them try to explain to their boys what's happening. They have little sons at home who have been separated from them now for way too long. And they are running out of ways to try and describe and explain to their sons what's happening. That's probably the hardest thing that they're going through. Physically, of course, they're exhausted. And they're very scared.

BLOCK: Eric Volz, thanks very much for talking with us.

VOLZ: You're welcome.

BLOCK: Eric Volz is managing director of the David House Agency and representative for Matthew and Grace Huang. We did contact the Embassy of Qatar here in Washington, and we're told the government has no comment on the Huang case now, but a statement was expected soon.

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