Sandy Phan-Gillis disappeared while on a business trip to China in 2015 and little had been heard of her case until her sentence
An American woman detained during a business trip to China and charged with spying was sentenced on Tuesday to three and a half years in prison, raising the possibility that she may be allowed to return home soon.
Phan Phan-Gillis has faced an uncertain fate since March 2015 when she disappeared from her group traveling in southern China. She was later accused of espionage, which carries a possible death sentence. A United Nations panel has said her detention violated international norms and the US has long pressed China to resolve the case fairly.
The US state department confirmed that she had been sentenced on Tuesday. While Phan-Gilliss trial was closed to the public, a representative from the American consulate in Guangzhou, China, was allowed to attend the public announcement of the verdict against her, the department said.
Under Chinese law, Phan-Gillis could be eligible now for parole and deportation, said John Kamm, founder of the San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation, which monitors human rights and legal issues in China. Kamm said he expects China to parole Phan-Gillis fairly soon.
The Chinese embassy in Washington did not respond to a message about her case.
Phan-Gillis is of Chinese descent, but was born in Vietnam and is an American citizen who lived in Houston and worked as a business consultant. Known by friends as Sandy, she made numerous trips to China for business and as a volunteer to promote cultural and business exchanges.
She disappeared from the rest of her group during a trip in March 2015 to promote business opportunities in Houston. It took her husband, Jeff Gillis, almost two weeks to confirm through American consular officials that she had been detained by Chinese state security.
Chinas opaque legal system often provides little or no explanation for why someone is detained or punished. Her Chinese lawyer, Shang Baojun, told the Associated Press last year that Phan-Gillis was charged with spying, but he could not discuss the case further because it involved state secrets. Jeff Gillis, who did not return a message on Tuesday, said last year that he was told his wife was accused of conducting a spy mission in 1996, then trying to recruit new spies the following two years allegations he called beyond ridiculous.