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Qatar Refuses to Let US Couple Leave Despite Acquittal

American couple Grace and Matthew Huang, who were sentenced to jail on murder charges following the January 2013 death of their adopted daughter Gloria, are seen before they meet with the U.S. Ambassador to Qatar in Doha, Oct. 19, 2014.

Qatar is refusing to let an American couple leave the Persian Gulf state, even after an appeals court acquitted them of wrongdoing in the death of their adopted daughter.

A Doha court on Sunday overturned an earlier ruling against Matthew and Grace Huang, who were originally jailed on murder charges following the January 2013 death of their eight-year-old daughter Gloria, adopted from an orphanage in Ghana.

The court said the couple were free to leave the country, but hours later Qatari immigration officials blocked them from boarding a flight at the Doha airport and confiscated their passports. A family representative said they were told that a new arrest warrant had been issued for them.

U.S. Ambassador Dana Shell Smith met with Qatari officials at the airport and sought to let the Huangs leave the country.

The family, originally from Los Angeles (California), had moved to Qatar where Matthew, an engineer, was working on an infrastructure project related to the 2022 World Cup improvements.

The Huangs, who are of Asian descent, were initially accused of starving Gloria to death to sell her organs, but were later jailed for three years on parental neglect charges. The public prosecutor had pushed for the death penalty for the Huangs, who also have two other children of African descent.

The Huangs were allowed to remain free pending their appeal, but could not leave the oil- and gas-rich nation.

The couple says Gloria died of medical problems complicated by unusual eating habits that included periods of bingeing and self-starvation.

Adoption and multi-racial families are rare in Qatar, a conservative Gulf Arab emirate. The case has seemingly been mired in racial prejudice.

The U.S. website of the California Innocence Project has posted a portion of a Qatari investigation. The investigation says the adoption process consists of searching for children who have "hereditary features" similar to the parents, but the Huang children "are all from Africa and most of the families there are indigent."

The Innocence Project report also says a witness said at the trial that "the deceased girl was black from Africa with a plump figure, while the parents have wheaten or white complexion. Those who adopt normally choose beautiful children."

U.S. officials intervened on the couple's behalf, with State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki last month urging Qatar to lift its travel ban immediately and bring the case to "an expeditious and just conclusion.''

Qatar hosts an important American military air operations center at an air base outside the capital, Doha, that is being used as part of airstrikes against the Islamic State group.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.

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