A US couple charged with the murder of their eight-year-old daughter have been freed from Qatari custody, although hearings will continue in the case, a court has ordered.
Matthew and Grace Huang were arrested in January 2013 and charged with murder in the death of their daughter, Gloria, who was adopted from Ghana.
The Qatari authorities accused the couple of starving their daughter to death with the intent of selling her organs. The charge of murder came with a potential death sentence in Qatar, though there has been an effective moratorium on executions for the last 10 years.
The Huangs denied the charges against them. They say the case was based on faulty science, poor evidence and cultural misunderstandings about international adoptions.
According to the court's order on Wednesday, the couple are now free to move about the country, but may not leave Qatar pending the conclusion of the case.
The defence and prosecution will now submit summaries of the evidence presented so far, and a verdict is likely in December.
Matthew Huang entered the courtroom in a dark suit and white shirt, unshaven. His wife, Grace, soon followed wearing women’s prison attire – a dark blue abaya and black hijab. Both sat beside each other during the four-hour session, and mingled with friends during court recess.
Seven witnesses provided testimony on behalf of the Huangs during the hearing, held at Doha’s Capital Court.
Annemarie Ford is a friend of the family who had travelled on a five-day trip to Jordan with the Huangs in 2012. "I know that Matt and Grace did not starve their daughter to death," she told the court. "I saw them being a loving family. I think this is a big mistake."
Another witness, Doha resident Roy Verrips from South Africa, said his family and the Huangs met for lunch four days before Gloria died. "Matt and Grace made sure their children were eating their food," he told the judge.
The Huangs did not offer comment following Wednesday's proceedings.
After testimony was given, the three judges briefly adjourned before returning. "You have been set free," the presiding judge announced in Arabic.
Daniel Chin, Grace Huang's brother, expressed relief at the decision to free them from jail pending a verdict.
"It was the right thing to do, and we’re going to continue to work through the legal system here to resolve their innocence," he told Al Jazeera outside the courtroom.
"It’s been a very long process … It’s been frustrating at times. It’s one of the strangest things we’ve experienced for sure. We believe this is going to be resolved, and the courts will find them innocent."
Children leave Qatar
The Huangs two other adopted children have left Qatar and are now living with family back in the United States.
"They miss their parents dearly, but they're doing well," said Chin. "They’re thriving."
The Huangs were not allowed to present their side of the story throughout the four pretrial hearings in the case.
The California Innocence Project (CIP), a US-based organisation that works on what it believes to be wrongful prosecutions, also said the Huangs had been denied bail during the course of the trial.
The Huangs moved to Doha with their three children in 2012. Matthew is an engineer who was working on a water purification project related to the 2022 football World Cup, which will be hosted in Qatar.