U.S. Woman Held by China For 'Spying' Was Tortured: Lawyer

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Sandy Phan-Gillis (C) visits the North American Representative Office of Shenzhen, southern China's Guangdong province, in an undated photo.
Sandy Phan-Gillis (C) visits the North American Representative Office of Shenzhen, southern China's Guangdong province, in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of www.SaveSandy.org

A U.S. citizen indicted by Chinese prosecutors on espionage charges was forced to "confess to her crimes" under duress and torture, her husband and lawyer said.

International business consultant Sandy Phan-Gillis was arrested by Chinese police in March 2015 during a visit there as part of a U.S. trade delegation promoting business opportunities in her hometown of Houston, Texas.

She was held for more than a year in the southwestern region of Guangxi before being indicted by prosecutors earlier this week, paving the way for a trial at the Nanning Intermediate People's Court, although no date has yet been set.

A naturalized U.S. citizen of Chinese ancestry, Phan-Gillis has previously written in a letter to consular officials in China that her detention was politically motivated.

Phan-Gillis, 56, who is accused of spying for a foreign government between 1996 and 1998, faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Her husband, Jeff Gillis, has said the charges are "absolutely false."

Forced confession

Phan-Gillis' defense lawyer Shang Baojun told RFA on Wednesday that the charges are based on a confession that was forced from his client.

"She made a forced confession, under pressure from the investigating officers," Shang said. "I visited her at the beginning of the month."

"She's not doing too badly, though she has been held for a long time, more than a year," he said, adding that the defense team hasn't yet been granted access to the prosecution's files.

But he declined to comment further on the case.

"I can't give you any specifics because it involves state secrets," Shang said.

Jeff Gillis told RFA on Tuesday that he has only spoken to his wife once since her detention.

"I received a call from my wife inside the detention center, and she was surrounded by scary-looking security guards," he said in comments translated into Chinese. "She was very frightened."

"These people ordered her to say to me that I should stop talking to the media, and she begged me to tell them that I would stop publicizing her story through the media," Gillis said.

"It's very clear that she had been threatened; they threatened her with not getting her medication, with denying her a meeting with her lawyer, or visits from U.S. consular officials," he said.

Gillis said Phan-Gillis has "serious health problems," including high blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol.

"Threatening to take away her medication is not that different from threatening to kill her," he said.

"Chinese state security police abused my wife during the investigation; torture was used during the interrogations, leading to a heart attack, and to her being hospitalized on two occasions," he said.

Case handled correctly

China's foreign ministry has defended her detention, saying her case is being handled correctly.

"Based on our understanding, Phan-Gillis, because of her suspected crimes of espionage, has been charged according to law by the relevant Chinese department," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular press briefing.

"China is a country ruled by law. The relevant Chinese department will handle the case strictly according to law," she said, but gave no further details.

Phan-Gillis' detention was criticized by the United Nations' Working Group on Arbitrary Detention for violating international human rights norms.

The U.S. State Department has meanwhile urged China to resolve the case "expeditiously."

Reported by Lin Ping for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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