SAN FRANCISCO (April 28, 2017) – On April 25, 2017, the Nanning Intermediate People’s Court in Nanning, capital of China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, convicted American businesswoman Sandy Phan-Gillis of espionage and sentenced her to three and one-half years’ imprisonment and deportation. On April 28, Ms. Phan-Gillis was deported. She arrived in Los Angeles the same day. She was met upon arrival by her husband and members of her family.
Ms. Phan-Gillis was taken into custody by agents of the Nanning State Security Bureau on March 19, 2015 at the Zhuhai border crossing in Guangdong Province. She was taken to Nanning where, on March 20, 2015, she was placed under residential surveillance in a designated location (RSDL), a coercive measure under which a suspect can be held without access to a lawyer or members of family for up to six months. At the time Ms. Phan-Gillis was taken into custody and placed under RSDL, she was the President of the Houston-Shenzhen Sister City Association. She was exiting China with a trade delegation led by the Mayor Pro Tem of Houston, Ed Gonzalez; Ms. Phan-Gillis was a member of the Mayor’s International Trade and Development Council and was known for her efforts to promote good relations between the United States and China.
After six months under RSDL, Ms. Phan-Gillis, who suffers from serious medical problems and was hospitalized in Nanning on two occasions, was formally detained and transferred to the Nanning Number Two Detention Center. She was formally arrested on suspicion of assisting in the theft of state secrets on October 26, 2015. The case was handed over to the procuratorate on May 26, 2016. Only then was she allowed to meet a lawyer, 14 months after she was taken into custody. In July, 2016 she was indicted for espionage and the case was sent to the Nanning Intermediate Court, which postponed the trial on at least two occasions.
The crime of espionage is one of the most serious crimes in the Criminal Law, carrying a maximum sentence of death. Dui Hua has recorded 186 cases of espionage in its prisoner database. Of these 28 people were given life sentences, eight were given sentences of death with two-year reprieve, and eight were sentenced to death. At the lower end of the spectrum, seven were given sentences of three years in prison and three (including Ms. Phan-Gillis) were given sentences of three and a half years.
On April 20, 2016, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) determined that Ms. Phan-Gillis had been arbitrarily detained in violation of international law. The WGAD decision, which was announced on June 29, 2016, marked the first time in its 25-year history that this group of experts had determined that an American citizen had been arbitrarily detained by the Chinese government.
Shortly before her conviction and deportation, Ms. Phan-Gillis was allowed a video call with her father who had suffered a major heart attack and had spent several days in a hospital intensive care unit. She has received monthly visits by officers of the Consulate General of the United States in Guangzhou.
Ms. Phan-Gillis’ return to the United States comes three weeks after President Xi Jinping’s visit to the United States for talks with President Trump. Negotiations to secure the release of Ms. Phan-Gillis intensified during Secretary Tillerson’s visit to Beijing in March 2017. Tillerson’s State Department was assisted by the White House in bringing the negotiations to a successful conclusion.
At the request of her husband, Jeff Gillis, Dui Hua’s executive director John Kamm worked for more than 19 months to help bring about her release, raising her case in more than two dozen meetings with Chinese government and party officials and placing her name on many prisoner lists.
Kamm said: “Ms. Phan-Gillis’ return to her family in the United States is the result of her husband and daughter’s heroic work over a period of two years. They were assisted in this effort by officers of the American Embassy in Beijing, the American Consulate in Guangzhou, and the Department of State and White House National Security Council in Washington; Members of Congress led by Congressman Al Green of Texas’ Ninth Congressional District; Senator Marco Rubio and the Congressional Executive Commission on China; Andrew Duncan, Chairman of Los Angeles-based film company June Pictures; the Houston city government, the Mo Shaoping Law Firm; and private citizens, notably friends and family of Jeff Gillis and Sandy Phan-Gillis, as well as human rights and civil society groups. There has been intense media interest in her case.”
Kamm also thanked members of the Chinese government with whom he met on many occasions to discuss Ms. Phan-Gillis’ case.
Kamm noted that “More than 100 American citizens are currently being deprived of their freedom in China. Some are held in detention centers, a few for long periods without adjudication; others are in prison, convicted and sentenced for offenses under China’s Criminal Law; still others are forbidden from leaving the country because of commercial disputes or because a relative is suspected of a crime. We must not forget them.”