A U.N. committee says an American businesswoman Sandy Phan-Gillis, detained in China since last year, has been subjected to "arbitrary detention" and should be released or given access to legal counsel.
The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) said in a report released this week that "international norms to the right to a fair trial and to liberty and security" had not been observed.
In Washington, the U.S. State Department expressed concerns about the welfare of Phan-Gillis, urging China to resolve the case expeditiously and to ensure her “full access to an attorney.”
“While not legally binding, we would encourage the government of China to review and consider the opinion and recommendations received from the working group,” spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday.
Kirby added that the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou, China, had been providing assistance, including monthly visits, to Phan-Gillis since she was detained on March 20, 2015. A consular officer last visited her on June 20.
Phan-Gillis, who ran a consulting firm that facilitated business dealings between U.S. and Chinese companies, was on a trip to China with a delegation from the city of Houston, Texas in March 2015 when Chinese officials detained her at the border with Macau. She has been accused of espionage.
Phan-Gillis was held for six months in a secret location before being transferred to a detention center in the southern region of Guangxi, where she was initially held in solitary confinement. She has not had access to a lawyer and has not been able to communicate with her family since September 2015, according to the report.
The White House had said in September that it was closely monitoring the case and had asked the Chinese government "direct questions" about it.
Phan-Gillis' arrest has come as a shock to both Houston’s Vietnamese and Chinese communities. Although she is of Chinese descent, she was born in Vietnam and came to the United States from that country as a refugee 40 years ago.
The case is receiving renewed attention ahead of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's visit to Beijing next week.
The State Department said senior U.S. government officials had raised Phan-Gillis' case with senior Chinese government officials multiple times.