China Violated Rights of Detained American, U.N. Panel Says


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Phan Phan-Gillis, an American business consultant who has been detained in China for more than a year.

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Jeff Gillis, via Associated Press

BEIJING — A United Nations committee has said that China has violated international human rights law by detaining without proper cause an American citizen, Phan Phan-Gillis, and has called for her immediate release.

That position was highlighted this week by a human rights advocacy group based in San Francisco, to put more pressure on the Chinese government during a visit to Beijing by the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon.

Mr. Ban arrived in Beijing on Wednesday for a five-day visit. He was expected to meet with President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

It was unclear whether Mr. Ban would bring up the detention of Ms. Phan-Gillis, 56, who is commonly known as Sandy.

The United Nations committee, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, is under the Human Rights Council. The Dui Hua Foundation, a group based in San Francisco that seeks to secure the release of political prisoners in China, said on Tuesday that this was the first time in the 25-year history of the working group that it had judged that an American citizen had been deprived of rights and arbitrarily detained by the Chinese government.

Ms. Phan-Gillis, a Vietnamese-American business consultant from Houston, was secretly detained in March 2015 by officers from the Ministry of State Security, which oversees espionage and counterespionage. She had been traveling in southern China with a group of businesspeople and officials from Houston.

In September 2015, her husband, Jeff Gillis, announced that he had heard that China had formally detained her and that the case was no longer secret. He said he had received the news just two days before President Xi Jinping of China was to arrive in Seattle for the start of a trip that would culminate in a state visit to Washington.

The United Nations working group said that the Chinese government had told it in April that Ms. Phan-Gillis was being accused of trying to steal state secrets and aiding an outside party in gathering national intelligence. She was formally arrested in October 2015, the group said.

The working group came up with its opinion on the detention during a meeting in April and released the findings last week. The written opinion said the group had learned that state security officers had stopped Ms. Phan-Gillis on March 19, 2015, at the border crossing between Zhuhai, in mainland China, and Macau, a Chinese special administrative region. She was held for six months in a secret location, commonly known as a black jail, then transferred to a detention center in Nanning, the provincial capital of Guangxi, once officers had decided to formalize her detention.

The working group said it had heard that Ms. Phan-Gillis was given no access to a lawyer and had been allowed to receive only half-hour visits from United States diplomats. Its written opinion lists many other ways in which China has violated her rights.

Asked for comment on the case on Thursday, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Hong Lei, sent a response by fax. “Sandy Phan-Gillis has been arrested in accordance with the law by China’s relevant departments for being suspected of engaging in criminal activities that endanger China’s national security,” he said.

“All of Sandy Phan-Gillis’s rights have been fully guaranteed, and she has been treated well,” he added. “We hope the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention could perform its duties impartially, respect China’s judicial sovereignty and stop making irresponsible remarks about China’s relevant departments’ handling of the case in accordance with the law.”

On Wednesday, a State Department spokesman, John Kirby, was asked about the case and the United Nations opinion during a regularly scheduled news conference in Washington.

“While not legally binding, we would encourage the government of China to review and consider the opinion and recommendations received from the working group,” Mr. Kirby said.

He said that a consular officer from Guangzhou last visited her on June 20 and that the consulate there had had diplomats visit her monthly since her detention.

“We’re certainly concerned about her welfare and her lengthy detention without trial, and we urge China to resolve this case expeditiously and to ensure that Ms. Phan-Gillis continues to have full access to an attorney,” he said. “Senior U.S. Government officials have raised her case with senior Chinese government officials on multiple occasions, and I can assure you we’ll continue to do so.”

The Dui Hua Foundation said Ms. Phan-Gillis “has worked tirelessly to promote U.S.-China relations for more than 20 years,” serving as either vice president or president of the Houston Shenzhen Sister City Association. At the time of her detention, she was president of the association.

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