Houston Woman Detained in China: Arrest is ‘An Absolute Mystery’

Sandy-Phan Gillis has been detained in China on espionage charges. Her husband says he’s “appalled” by the State Department response in D.C.

By Rhonda FanningSeptember 22, 2015 9:38 am| ,

Tuesday, China’s president arrives in the U.S. for a high-level state visit. President Xi Jinping’s first stop is Seattle and at the end of the week he’ll be in Washington to meet President Obama.

Cybersecurity is said to be on the agenda, maybe because of Washington’s upset over China’s apparent hacking of databases. But something not on the agenda – at least not yet – is China’s mysterious arrest of a Texas woman.

Sandy-Phan Gillis of Houston, has long been a part of a non-profit helping broker business deals between Texas and China.

But six months ago, while traveling in Southern China with a group of Houston officials and businessfolk, the 55-year-old woman called her husband, Jeff, and told him she would be staying a little longer.

Then she disappeared.

Jeff got word that Sandy was officially detained. Now she’s been formally arrested for espionage. Jeff Gillis insists there’s no way his wife is a spy.

“My wife hasn’t been held by police for six months, she’s been held by China’s spy agency,” Gillis says. “These are the folks that are sending spies all over the U.S., hacking the U.S. — it’s scary.”

He says the authorities have provided no details on what his wife is suspected of doing or for whom.

“Whenever we ask, all that they will say is: spying and stealing state secrets,” Gillis says. “And unfortunately, these charges in China are used to mean just about whatever they want them to mean.”

Gillis says he spent the first three weeks convinced that his wife’s previous working relationship with China’s foreign ministry would see to her release, considering her years of non-profit efforts between the two countries.

“Look, talk to the Chinese folks that are arranging this visit for President Xi Jinping and explain to them that the politics of arresting a U.S. citizen on spying charges — which is a political charge, not really a criminal charge — the politics of doing that just before a state visit of President Xi Jinping make no sense at all,” Gillis says.