(Photo: Reuters/Mohammed Dabbous)
Matthew and Grace Huang, an American couple from Los Angeles, were sentenced in Qatar Thursday to three years in prison for allegedly killing their 8-year-old adopted daughter, Gloria. Supporters say the Huangs have been wrongly accused.
"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," Matthew Huang said, according to FreeMattandGrace.com, a website that supports the Huangs.
"The prosecutor accused us of trafficking our legal adopted children with the intent of selling their organs. That is how ridiculous this is .... So 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.
"This verdict should be overturned immediately and we should be allowed to go home."
A U.S. State Department spokesperson said Friday that the U.S. government was "surprised and disappointed" by Qatar's court decision.
"We have had some concerns during the trial that not all evidence was weighed by the courts and some cultural misunderstandings may have led to an unfair trial," she added. "We have talked to the government about this. We will continue to."
Gloria, who the Huangs adopted from Ghana when she was four, died in January 2013. The Huangs claimed she had been suffering from diseases related to the malnutrition she suffered before being adopted.
An autopsy found that Gloria had died of "cachexia and dehydration," according to Reuters. Cachexia is a malnutrition related disease. Thus, the autopsy confirmed the Huangs' version of events.
Nonetheless, the Huangs were arrested and initially charged with murder. Officials claimed Gloria had been adopted and murdered "in order to harvest her organs or to conduct medical experiments on her."
The original charge of premeditated murder was later changed to "murder by negligence."
At the time of the arrest, the Huangs were living in Qatar where Matthew Huang, an engineer, was working on an infrastructure project. The Huangs' two sons, also adopted, were initially placed in an orphanage in Qatar but were later allowed to fly back to California to live with their grandmother.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), co-chair of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, called on Qatar to release the Huangs.
"The Huangs, an American couple of Asian descent, chose to build their family by adopting three orphaned children from Africa," she said. "According to all accounts and evidence, they did their best to overcome the damage that Gloria endured in the early years of her life that resulted in serious eating and other behavioral disorders, which likely led to her untimely death."
Landrieu also suggested that the race differences between the Huangs and their daughter played a role in the accusations.
"The Qatari notion that the Huangs must be guilty because they are of Asian descent and their children are of African descent is offensive and absurd," she said.
The Huangs are represented by The David House Agency and California Innocence Project, a California Western School of Law program devoted to getting the wrongly convicted released from prison.