WASHINGTON - The husband of an American woman who has been charged of spying on China said Thursday that Beijing is trying to cover up evidence that could exonerate her.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said this week that China has formally charged Texas businesswoman Sandy Phan-Gillis, who has been detained since last year, with espionage.
The 55-year-old Vietnamese-born U.S. citizen of Chinese ancestry was detained in March 2015 after being stopped for questioning in the southern city of Zhuhai, where she was preparing to depart for Macau.
Her husband, Jeff Gillis, said in a statement on Thursday that "these allegations are completely false," explaining that China accused his wife of conducting espionage in mainland China in 1996, but that her U.S. passport reveals that she wasn't in China at the time.
U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said on Thursday that the United States remains concerned about her welfare.
“We continue to monitor her case closely. Officers from the consulate there have visited her on a monthly basis since she was detained back in March of last year," he said. "We have repeatedly pressed Chinese authorities to provide further details of the case and to give our consular officers full and unrestricted access to her, as required by the Vienna Convention. We urge the Government of China to review and consider seriously the views expressed by the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), including its recommendation to release Ms. Phan-Gillis.”
Arbitrary detention claimed
In June, WGAD published a statement calling Phan-Gillis a victim of arbitrary detention, and that she hadn't been brought before judicial authorities or given access to legal assistance.
Phan-Gillis, who ran a consulting firm that facilitated business dealings between U.S. and Chinese companies, was detained while traveling with a delegation from Houston, Texas. For six months she was held in a secret location, after which she was transferred to a detention center in the southern region of Guangxi, where she was initially held in solitary confinement.
According to the report - the first in WGAD's 25-year history that deemed an American citizen to have been arbitrarily detained by China - Phan-Gillis has not had access to a lawyer or any communication with her family since September 2015.
While WGAD says detention is deemed arbitrary if it has no legal basis or legal rights are ignored, China has warned the United Nations against questioning its judicial independence.
"We hope that the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention can perform its duties impartially, respect China's judicial sovereignty, and cease making irresponsible remarks about legal cases being handled by relevant Chinese departments," said Hong Lei, spokesperson of Chinese Foreign Ministry in a news briefing.
State Department officials have said that although the WGAD ruling is not legally binding, they “would encourage the government of China to review and consider the opinion and recommendations received."
Jeff Gillis has called on President Barack Obama to request the release of his wife when meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the G-20 summit hosted by China this week.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Mandarin Service.