An American businesswoman from Texas who was detained in 2015 will stand trial in China for spying, China’s Foreign Ministry revealed during a press briefing Tuesday.
Chinese authorities held Phan “Sandy” Phan-Gillis, a naturalized U.S. citizen and Houston resident, for more than a year without official charges, reports Reuters. A formal indictment was passed down in July.
The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention criticized the detention of Phan-Gillis early last month. Her detention was deemed unlawful and a violation of international human rights. China rebuked the work group’s criticisms and informed it that Phan-Gillis “assisted external parties to steal national intelligence.” The U.N. working group demanded that she be released or given access to proper legal assistance, reported the Associated Press.
Phan-Gillis allegedly recruited people in the U.S. to work for a foreign spy organization dedicated to stealing Chinese secrets, according to Chinese authorities. She was also said to have engaged in espionage in Guangxi province in Southern China in the 1990s, despite evidence that she may not have been in the country at the time.
“Sandy is absolutely innocent,” her husband Jeff Gillis explained to the New York Times. “Chinese officials did not even check their own internal databases to see if Sandy was in the country then. She wasn’t even in China.”
Phan-Gillis was arrested last year during a visit to China as a member of a trade delegation. Authorities picked her up while she was trying to travel from Zhuhai to Macau.
“Based on our understanding, Phan-Gillis, because of her suspected crimes of espionage, has been charged according to law by the relevant Chinese department,” explained Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying Tuesday. “China is a country ruled by law. The relevant Chinese department will handle the case strictly according to the law.” Hua did not go into detail on the charges.
Following Phan-Gillis’ July indictment, the U.S. Department of State said that it is urging “China to resolve this case expeditiously.” The State Department has informed every level of the Chinese government that Phan-Gillis is not a spy, and consular officers have been checking on her condition.
The indictment and filing of formal charges against Phan-Gillis is potentially the latest salvo in an ongoing battle between the U.S. and China. A Chinese man named Su Bin was jailed for a total of 46 months after he plead guilty to conspiring to steal sensitive military information by hacking into the networks of major U.S. defense contractors.
Phan-Gillis reportedly wrote a letter stating that her incarceration and the charges against her are entirely political. She initially confessed to certain allegations against her, but she later explained that those confessions were coerced by Chinese authorities.
As President Barack Obama will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 Summit in Hangzhou this weekend, Jeff Gillis is begging Obama to bring this issue up during the meeting. “The time really is critical for Sandy, with the imminent meeting between President Obama and Xi Jinping,” said Gillis.
If Phan-Gillis is convicted, she is likely to be sentenced to more than 10 years in prison.
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