Category Archives: Middle East

Wrongful Prosecution of Innocents in Qatar?

The California Innocence Project and the David House Agency are working on the following case in Qatar, summarized below by the David House Agency.  Media reports here and here.

Matthew and Grace Huang are an American couple from Los Angeles who moved to Qatar with their three young children in 2012.  Matthew’s American employer had asked Matthew, a Stanford-trained engineer, to go to Qatar to help oversee a major infrastructure project related to the 2022 World Cup improvements.  On January 15, 2013, the Huangs’ eight year-old daughter, Gloria, died unexpectedly in Doha. Gloria had not been ill, at least not outwardly so.  Her body showed no signs of trauma or other violence.  Nevertheless, the Qatari police immediately suspected foul play.  They arrested the Huangs the next day and put the Huangs’ other two children in an orphanage.  Qatari officials subsequently charged Matthew and Grace with murdering Gloria, concluded the murder may have been done in order to harvest her organs or to conduct medical experiments on her, and accused the Huangs of obtaining all three of their children via human trafficking.  As their trial started and stopped, the Huangs spent nearly a year in a Qatari jail, before recently being released on their own recognizance.  Despite this being a capital case, and despite having already denied multiple requests by the Huangs to be released on bond, the judge suddenly ordered the Huangs released from custody after the evidence portion of their trial concluded in November 2013.  They remain barred from leaving Qatar while they await the outcome of their trial.  And the prosecution has made clear that it continues to seek the death penalty.

Quite simply, there is no evidence whatsoever that the Huangs harmed Gloria, let alone murdered her as part of an effort to harvest her organs or perform medical experiments on her.  Instead, the case against the Huangs is rooted in transparently racial and cultural prejudice by the Qatari police and prosecutor and has been perpetuated at trial by fraudulent evidence and testimony about what anonymous sources supposedly told police.

The Huangs are an unconventional family, particularly by Qatari standards.  Matthew and Grace are of Asian descent.  Their three children all are black and were adopted by the Huangs from Africa. The Qatari officials found the Huangs’ family situation inherently suspicious.  And it is clear that these racially motivated suspicions are what led to the Huangs’ arrest and subsequent prosecution.

Within two days of Gloria’s death, police accused Matthew and Grace of engaging in human trafficking.  During the investigative proceedings, the prosecutor asked a police investigator to describe the “intent” of Matthew and Grace “in buying the children.”  The investigator responded:

The investigations established that “the two defendants,  Matthew  and Grace Huang, participated with others in child trafficking, most likely to either sell their organs or to conduct medical experiments on them.”

Police have never offered any actual evidence to support these false and vile accusations.  Instead, they accused Matthew and Grace of the most deplorable conduct imaginable based on their bigoted belief that an Asian-American couple’s adoption of African children is inherently suspicious.  According to the Qatari investigators:

“The adoption process consists of searching for children who are good-looking and well-behaved, and who have hereditary features that are similar to those of the parents.  But the children connected to this incident are all from Africa and most of the families there are indigent.”

On the very first day of trial, the prosecutor asked the very fist witness whether there was a connection between the murder charge and the allegation that “the Accused starved the Victim for the purpose of human trafficking and human organ trafficking.”  The witness responded:

“There could be a connection. . . . The deceased girl was black from Africa with a plump figure, while the parents have wheaten or white complexion.  Those who adopt for adoption normally choose beautiful children.”

To be very clear, in all the adoptions, the Huangs utilized a respected adoption agency and obtained all the proper visas from the U.S. State Department.  Even after being presented repeatedly with the adoption paperwork, the Qatari prosecutor and police at trial persisted in accusing the Huangs of human trafficking and claiming the Huangs “bought” the children.  Of course, if Qatari officials truly believed the Huangs were engaged in human trafficking, then it is hard to explain their decision in September 2013 to allow the children to return to America and reside with Grace’s mother and father and to not call them as witnesses.

The prosecution’s case against the Huangs has steadily crumbled, yet the case continues.  Rather than present actual proof that the Huangs were engaged in human trafficking or that Gloria was mistreated, the prosecution instead called police investigators as witnesses who testified that “anonymous sources” told them the Huangs were mysterious, stingy, kept to themselves, and that Gloria had “vanished” in the days leading up to her death.  The Huangs, by contrast, presented live witnesses from Doha who knew the Huangs and who testified how they had traveled with the Huang family, attended church, parties and meals with them, and about how lovingly the Huangs treated all their children.  The police further testified about how their examination of the Huangs’ home showed only the bare essentials in Gloria’s room and no toys.  The Huangs produced pictures proving that Gloria had her own fully furnished room with an adjoining bathroom, a wide wardrobe of clothes, and a dedicated playroom full of games and toys.  Every testifying witness who knew the Huang family prior to Gloria’s death testified that the Huangs loved Gloria and that Gloria appeared healthy and well treated.

Similarly, no science or forensic evidence supports the charge that the Huangs murdered Gloria. Again, Gloria’s body showed no signs that she had been abused. She was, however, very thin, so Qatari investigators have speculated that she died of starvation or dehydration, even though the medical examiner at trial disputed that he could say that she had died of starvation.  In any event, the Huangs have shown this theory to be objectively false.

Gloria was born into extreme poverty in Ghana and was not adopted until she was four years old.  We thus do not have the benefit of any family medial background or genetic history.  When she arrived in America she had Giardia, a parasitic condition that can be difficult to eradicate and can cause a nutritional problem — i.e., impair the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food.  She later tested positive for Vitamin D deficiency and had other unusual blood work that, in retrospect, indicated a continuing malabsorption problem.  From time to time she would exhibit an eating disorder — common among children with backgrounds similar to hers — where she would refuse food for days at a time and then eat more than an adult.  Other times she would eat food from the garbage even when she had healthy food available.  Yet most of the time she was vibrant and seemingly healthy.  She then died suddenly in the midst of one of her cycles of refusing to eat.

But Gloria clearly was not starved to death.  A human body does not starve to death very easily.  It takes significant time for the body to break down all its resources.  A few days of not eating would not cause a child to starve.  At trial, independent witnesses testified they saw Gloria eat on January 11, 2013, four days before she died.  In addition, independent witnesses visited the Huangs’ home on the evening of January 14, 2013, the evening before Gloria died.  They saw Gloria sitting with the family that night at their dinner table and walking around, including up the stairs to her room to go to bed.  They swear she appeared happy and healthy.  As a matter of medical science, a child who is one day away from starvation almost certainly would not be able to walk and would appear gravely ill.

There is no basis for the allegation that dehydration caused Gloria’s death.  Gloria had urine in her bladder at autopsy.  She had a bathroom with a working sink in her bedroom where she was found after collapsing.  Photos of her room taken after she died show that she had bottles of water in her room.  Both parents swear she drank fluids even when fasting.  Her brother, Emmanuel, told police that on the day of Gloria’s death, her mother gave her a bottle of water and made her drink.  The medical examiner did not test her fluids, urine or blood at autopsy to assess her level of dehydration.

The medical examiner was not aware of Gloria’s medical history when he conducted his autopsy.  He did not have her medical records from America.  He also did not seem to be aware of or consider her cyclical eating problems.

The Huangs presented their expert reports to the Qatari court and prosecutor in June 2013.  The reports criticized the autopsy for not doing proper laboratory analyses of fluids, blood and tissue.  The Qatari prosecutor responded by filing with the court a highly suspicious laboratory report dated January 23, 2013, which purported to reflect that analysis was done on tissue taken from Gloria’s heart, brain, liver, kidneys, and lungs at autopsy.  The report is very strange in that it does not contain any data (e.g., test results) about what such analyses showed.  The prosecution nevertheless claims that conclusory language in the report somehow proves that Gloria had no diseases or other conditions that may have contributed to her death.

The Huangs dispute the authenticity of the late-disclosed laboratory report.  The autopsy report records that samples of her blood and vitreous humor were sent to be tested for drugs and common poisons, but no mention is made in the her autopsy report of any tissues taken from her organs. Moreover, when Gloria’s body was returned to the United States, an American pathologist examined her remains and specifically noted in his report that tissue samples had not been taken from Gloria’s brain or major organs:

[T]here is no evidence that any tissue has been removed from the brain for microscopic examination. . . . Individual organs lay free within the body cavity; examination reveals no evidence of sectioning or cutting into, or through, the organs. . . . Since the organs have not been cut, there can be no tissues taken for microscopic examination at the first autopsy. . . . The failure to perform a complete autopsy, which would include taking samples of organs for microscopic examination, obtaining samples and submitting them for bacterial and viral cultures, and testing the eye fluids for electrolytes, means that many possible causes of death have not been ruled out. . . . The only cause of death [that can be] ruled out is trauma.

When an organ, such as a liver or kidney, is sampled as part of a post-mortem cause of death, the organ is typically sliced all the way through and often multiple cuts are made.  There are different protocols for different organs, but the important point is this:  if samples had been taken of Gloria’s organs, there is no chance that the American pathologist would have seen “no evidence” of such sectioning and cutting.

No tissue samples have been preserved.  No photographs of the autopsy appear to exist.  Obtaining and keeping such samples and photographs would be standard procedure in a child death case.

The Huangs have obtained an extensive report from one of the foremost pediatric forensic pathologists in the world. (See attached Exhibit #5).  This physician confirms that the medical evidence does not support a medical conclusion that Gloria starved to death or was otherwise abused.  We do not currently even know what the Qatari officials believe to be the cause of Gloria’s death.

This case has been infected from the beginning with cultural prejudices, reliance on anonymous sources, false testimony, missing documents and evidence, the appearance of a very suspicious medical report, and the prosecutor’s inexplicable invocation of Islamic religious references as a substitute for proof of guilt.  This case fails to satisfy basic due process requirements and violates several provisions of the U.N. Charter on Human Rights.

The Qatari police were fully justified in investigating Gloria’s death.  But facts refute the charge that the Huangs starved their daughter or that they had adopted her for illegitimate reasons.  The continued detention of American citizens Matthew and Grace Huang should end immediately.

Law Review Issue on Wrongful Convictions Around the Globe Now in Print…

Cover

At long last, the University of Cincinnati Law Review symposium issue stemming from the 2011 International Innocence Conference in Cincinnati is finally in print.  The edition contains articles discussing and summarizing the causes and extent of wrongful conviction in countries across the globe.  You can find the entire volume here.  Congrats to all involved on completing this important work.

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

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International Expansion of the Innocence Movement in 2012

The purpose of this post is to briefly summarize organized innocence activity around the world during 2012 (If I have left items out, please let me know so I can supplement this post).  The calendar year 2012 undoubtedly saw the largest expansion of organized innocence work in history.  Well-attended innocence conferences were held in 5 different continents.  Organizations designed to free the innocent operated in every inhabited continent, and new projects launched in various Latin American countries, France, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Israel, and Taiwan, among others.  Here is a brief summary:

  • The Innocence Network, which currently consists of more than 60 member projects in the U.S., UK, Canada, the Netherlands, and Australia, issued its 2012 report, which lists the members and summarizes the 22 exonerations  its members obtained in the calendar year.  Major conferences on the subject were held in Australia, the UK and the U.S.
  • A network of organizations fighting for the innocent was launched in Latin America, Red Inocente (website here).  Red Inocente held its first annual conference in July, which was attended by more than 70 representatives from various Latin American countries.  Presentations were made about innocence efforts underway in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, and Puerto Rico.  Details of conference here.  The second annual conference will be held in 2013 in Buenos Aires.  Red Inocente has already seen its first exoneration, which occurred this year in Argentina.
  • In Europe, the UK has had a rich history of innocence work for decades, most recently spearheaded by the Innocence Network UK, and many other university-based groups not part of INUK.  This past year has seen innocence organizations launch in the Netherlands and in Lyon, France.  The Innocence Law Clinic in Warsaw, Poland, successfully continued its operations, which have been ongoing since 1999, and the Supreme Court of Poland held a lecture on the international expansion of the Innocence Movement, sponsored by the Helsinki Foundation.  Also in Poland, a conference was held in Krakow on on the topic of wrongful convictions, attended by judges and prosecutors from across the country.  In the Czech Republic, lectures on wrongful convictions were held at 2 major law schools, summarized in this news clip.  Interest in starting an innocent project is budding in Italy, with representatives from a major law school there planning to attend the 2013 Innocence Conference and to shadow the Ohio Innocence Project this summer.
  • In Africa, the highly-organized Wits Justice Project in South Africa continued its operations with many successes; and a new Innocence Project South Africa launched
  • The Israeli Wrongful Convictions Clinic launched
  • In Asia, projects launched with much acclaim in Taiwan and the Philippines.  China held its first major conference on the topic of wrongful conviction, attended by hundreds of judges, prosecutors, professors and defense attorneys.  Two books on wrongful convictions, False Justice and Illustrated Truth, were translated and published in China.

Launch of Israeli Wrongful Convictions Clinic…

Audience at conference

Audience at conference


On Monday, October 12, 2012 (The International Human Rights Day), a conference took place at the Hebrew University School of Law, which launched the new (and first of its kind in Israel) wrongful convictions clinic, that was recently opened at the Hebrew University School of Law, in collaboration with the Israeli Public Defender’s Office.

The conference, organized by Dr. Anat Horovitz, Deputy Head of the National Public Defender’s Office, and Dr. Einat Albin, Head of the Center for Clinical Education at the Hebrew University School of Law, began with greetings by Dr. Guy Rotkopf, Director-General of the Israeli Ministry of Justice, Prof. Yuval Shany, Dean of the Hebrew University School of Law, and Dr. Yoav Sapir, Head of the National Public Defender’s Office. The greetings were followed by an exceptional keynote speech delivered by Prof. Larry Marshall of Stanford Law School.  During the second session of the conference, the well-known documentary filmmaker, Ms. Ofra Bikel, talked about her work and part of her film the “Confessions” was viewed by the audience.

Keynote speaker:  Larry Marshall

Keynote speaker: Larry Marshall

At the final session of the conference, a panel which included former Supreme Court Justice E. Goldberg, Prof. M. Kremnitzer (Vice President of the Israel Democracy  Institute), Ms. E. Fink (Head of the Re-Trial Department at the National Public Defender’s Office) and Mr. S. Lemberger (Deputy Israel State Attorney), engaged in a lively discussion regarding procedures for addressing wrongful convictions in Israel, moderated by Dr. Anat Horovitz. The conference was open to the public and attended by  many criminal law professionals (including judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys) as well as a large number of law students.

Sunday’s Quick Clicks…

How Nations Handle Extra-Territorial Breaches of their Nationals’ Right to Innocence and Miscarriages of Justice

That the world is shrinking by the day, is much more than a metaphor. It’s a reality. Nationals of nations are scattered all around the globe, seeking different realities, challenges and opportunities. In the process, they are confronted with different norms, cultures and laws which they are compelled to abide by, or face sanctions for breaches of the laws of their host countries. In effect, nationals outside their own territories, must not only comply with the laws of their host countries, but there is a continuing responsibility of their own governments to ensure that they are treated fairly,  justly and in line with internationally acceptable legal standards.

What happens when a government fails to take up that challenge on behalf of their own citizens abroad? It’s sometimes a catch twenty-two situation, given the intersection between politics and law. One thing is certain though, most international Instruments lay down certain minimum standards for the dispensation of justice and, indeed, of the trial process. Recent cases of US and Nigerian citizens with criminal processes/procedures abroad, have demonstrated that, whilst one nation takes seriously it’s continuing international obligations to its nationals; the other have simply shirked her responsibilities to it’s nationals abroad, leaving them at the mercy and vagaries of the ‘laws’ of the host countries, without regard to the fairness, justice or indeed, whether the laws of the host countries guarantees the minimum rights under international law.

With respect to the US, the recent case of Jason Puracal (An American citizen) in Nicaragua was handled ‘fairly’ well, if for nothing, the drawing of the attention of the US Congress (43 House of Representatives members) to his plight, and the calling of the attention of the United Nations, declaring the Nicaraguan judicial system as flawed and a violation of international law. Read archived post on this case here.

That Nigerian nationals face legal hurdles and challenges abroad is well documented. What is not well appreciated is the response of the Nigerian government, and it’s attitude to her nationals undergoing criminal processes abroad. In Indonesia for instance, there are a sizeable number of Nigerians who have alleged that, their right to justice, and sometimes, outright miscarriages of justice have occurred; which has left them wrongfully imprisoned, some on death row, and others, actually have been executed without due process. Read here and here

There is the on-going trial of a Nigerian pastor in Austria – Pastor Joshua Esosa -for ‘drug related offenses’, which he vigorously denies. He was made to undergo criminal processes in Austria which resulted in his ‘conviction and sentence’, whereupon he appealed the decision. An appellate court in Austria, it seems, have ordered the remittal of his case for re-trial de novo. That re-trial commenced, or rather, took place on the 6th of June, 2012. The point here is that, Pastor Joshua Esosa practically shouted himself hoarse, before he was given the right of re-trial, despite the unfairness of the initial trial process; and the Nigerian Embassy appearing to have utterly failed him. Read his story here

In conclusion, the anecdotal facts above, clearly demonstrate that governments owe it’s own nationals obligations to ensure that they are given a fair trial abroad. That obligation is a continuing one. It must be exercised responsibly in line with internationally acceptable legal standards. Where those domestic standards falls short of universally acceptable norms, by virtue of its continuing obligations, it behooves governments to engage on her nationals’ behalf to ensure justice is done. The Nigerian government must now begin to learn to shift grounds, and explore not only legal measures, but political means to protect her nationals abroad.

Controversial “Lockerbie Bomber” Dies…

I have previously covered at length the Lockerbie Bomber case here, here and here, which many believe resulted in a wrongful conviction.

Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the so-called Lockerbie Bomber, died today at age 60.

Prosecutors in Israel Agree to Post-Conviction DNA Testing in High-Profile Murder Conviction…

From web source:

The state prosecution told the High Court of Justice yesterday it will submit articles of clothing worn by a man murdered 17 years ago for advanced DNA testing, to help determine whether the case should be retried.

At issue are nine blood and saliva stains on the shoes and shirt that attorney Shmuel Levinson was wearing when he was killed in August 1994, after he surprised a burglar in his Jerusalem home. Levinson had been named chairman of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel shortly before his murder.

Ovadia Shalom, a drug addict and known property thief, was arrested six months later on suspicion of various property crimes. At some point, police began to suspect that he had murdered Levinson. Shalom was convicted of the crime in 1997 and is serving a life sentence, though neither the police’s criminal identification department nor the coroner could definitively link him to it.

Based on the technology available at the time, which did not include DNA testing, the coroner’s office said the blood stains found at the scene were consistent with Shalom’s blood. But a hair found in a sock at the scene was found not to be Continue reading

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

‘An Eye for an Eye Leaves The Whole World Blind’

This epigram is famously associated with Ghandi and his teachings on non violence. Can justice ever cohere or be coterminous with this saying? What does it really convey jurisprudentially in the context of western style or Islamic/Sharia criminal law?  Can a literal interpretation of the term truly serve the ends of justice? In countries like Nigeria with a dualist criminal law and procedure i.e. Sharia law operating side by side with western style criminal code, striking the right balance continue to pose problems at the level of interpretation and execution. It’s a different ball game with ‘theocratic’ Middle Eastern states, for instance - Iran, Saudi Arabia. The famous case of Ameneh Bahrami – who was blinded when a spurned suitor threw acid at her and she asked for the same to be inflicted on him - highlights the dilemma.  Read her story  http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/may/13/iran-blind-criminal-acid             

It compels us to ask, what is the purpose of crime and punishment in society? Reformation. Restitution.  Or, to reach out for the eye of the convict. Each society must make that decision for itself to suit the mores, values, religion and culture of it’s people. I guess it is safe to say that, an eye for an eye should be at the lower end of that decision scale.

Megrahi Near Death…

Also knows as The Lockerbie Bomber, much controversy has surrounded his conviction in recent months (here here and here).

Story of his impending death here

Saturday’s Quick Clicks…

Alleged Lockerbie Bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi Close to Death, Confident He Will Be Exonerated Someday Soon…

I have previously blogged herehere, here and here about the alleged wrongful conviction of Megrahi, known as the Lockerbie Bomber.  A member of his defense team now says he is on the verge of death.  Megrahi is confident he will be fully exonerated after his “imminent” death…Details here

FBI Agent Blasts Scottish Report Outlining Reasons Why “Lockerbie Bomber” Might be Innocent

I’ve blogged here and here about questions as to whether Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, known as “The Lockerbie Bomber,” might have been wrongfully convicted, as many believe.  An 800-page report by the Scottish CCRC the has identified 6 areas of concern in the case that point to innocence, including the fact that the FBI allegedly paid witnesses for their testimony.  But an FBI agent, Oliver “Buck” Revell, who was in charge of investigating the case has now come out firing, claiming that the FBI never paid witnesses, and that the report is not complete or credible because the FBI was never interviewed or consulted regarding the facts.  Details here.  More here.

What Can Innocence Reformers Learn from the Aviation and Engineering Fields?

Boaz Sangero and Mordechai Halpert of Ramat Gan Law School in Israel have posted a very interesting article on SSRN, entitled A Safety Doctrine for the Criminal Justice System (available here).  The abstract states:

Criminal law, unlike other risk-creating fields, currently lacks any modern safety doctrine. In light of the proven phenomenon of wrongful convictions and the severe harm it causes to both those wrongly convicted and society, this Essay focuses on the necessary preliminary stages in developing a safety doctrine for the criminal justice system. Under our conception criminal law is a “safety-critical system”: it deals with matters of life and death. We view false conviction to be a type of accident, similarly to a crash of a fighter airplane. This comparison is not only metaphorical, but quite literal when the damage is assessed from an economic standpoint. Care and Continue reading

Human Rights Watch: Hundreds of Innocents Railroaded in Bahrain in Joke Trials…

Human Rights Watch issued a report this week revealing that officials in Bahrain have been using the ordinary criminal courts to trump up charges against innocents in politically motivated trials to crush dissent.  Report here.  Details here.

Lockerbie Bombing Case: A Wrongful Conviction?

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who was convicted in the Lockerbie bombing, released a book Monday that sets forth his claims of innocence.  The abstract of the book, entitled Meghari:  You Are My Jurystates:

You know me as the Lockerbie bomber. I know that I’m innocent. Here, for the first time, is my true story: how I came to be blamed for Britain’s worst mass murder, my nightmare decade in prison and the truth about my controversial release. Please read it and decide for yourself.

You are now my jury. – Abdelbaset al-Megrahi

Two documentary films being released also call his conviction “Britain’s biggest miscarriage of justice,” and allegedly demolish the key witness against him.  The films also shed light on exculpatory material that was not previously disclosed (what we call Brady violations in the U.S.).  More here, here, and here.   For a rebuttal, read this

A Separation: Oscar Winning Film Raises Wrongful Conviction Issues in Iran

A Separation won best foreign language film at the Academy Awards Sunday night.  Not only is this a really interesting, well-acted movie, but the plot revolves around a possible wrongful conviction in progress.  As the story unfolds, and the viewer learns more and more about the case, one gets a sense of how the Iranian criminal justice system operates.  The judge in the case hears “evidence” and rules on the merits in a small office with each witness and the defendant just sort of hashing it out and arguing with each other until the judge gets a feel for what he thinks happened.  In the process, questions are raised about the reliability of different forms of evidence, and how wrongful convictions can happen to anyone–even the respected and privileged in society.  The bottom line is that the film is wonderful, and I’d recommend to anyone regardless of his or her interest in wrongful convictions or comparative criminal justice systems.  I’m not the only one who liked it, as it got a rare 99% approval rate from the critics on rottentomatoes.com.  Save it to your Netflix queue here.