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China convicts US woman held for ‘spying’

Beijing: A Chinese court has sentenced an American woman to three and a half years in prison and deportation on espionage charges, a rights group said Wednesday, and her lawyer said he expects her release soon.

Sandy Phan-Gillis was detained in March 2015 at the Macau border after visiting mainland China with a trade delegation from the Texas oil capital Houston.

She was accused of espionage and stealing state secrets for allegedly passing intelligence to a third party, according to previous reports from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention which cited government sources.

Nanning Intermediate People’s Court in the southern province of Guangxi passed the sentence Tuesday, but the American’s next steps will not become clear until a written judgement is released, John Kamm, director of the US-based Dui Hua Foundation rights group, told AFP.

Phan-Gillis was currently being held in a detention centre and not a prison and did not plan to appeal, he said.

Kamm said that “adjusted for time spent in residential surveillance in a designated location, she has already served more than half her sentence, and is accordingly eligible for parole as well as medical parole, commutation and immediate deportation”.

“I am hopeful she will be reunited with her family soon,” he added.

Her lawyer Shang Baojun confirmed the sentence and said he expected the written verdict to be issued within five days.

“I expect she will be deported very soon, and if so, would not need to serve the three-and-a-half-year sentence,” he told AFP. Phan-Gillis was in “okay” physical and mental condition, he said.

A US embassy spokeswoman said Wednesday her trial was closed to the public and a request to have a consular officer attend had been refused.

The spokeswoman said the US government “remained concerned” about the case and was in contact with the “highest levels” of the Chinese government about it.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention last year denounced China’s handling of the case, saying it had not observed “international norms relating to the right to a fair trial and to liberty and security”.

Violations by Chinese authorities were of “such gravity as to give the deprivation of liberty of Ms Phan-Gillis an arbitrary character”, it noted in a report released last July.

Phan-Gillis was held for six months at a secret location and later at a detention centre in Guangxi, where she was initially put in solitary confinement, the working group said.

Her husband Jeff Gillis has campaigned for her freedom, including a website “savesandy.org” which has now been taken down.

According to an archive version of the site, Phan-Gillis has family origins in southern China but was born in Vietnam.

She left the country in the late 1970s as part of the exodus of “boat people” who fled Communist rule.

-Agence France-Presse