BEIJING (AFP) - A Chinese court has sentenced an American woman to three and a half years in prison and deportation on espionage charges, a US-based rights group said on Wednesday (April 26), although details about her fate remain unclear.
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 United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) that cited unnamed government sources.
Nanning Intermediate People's Court in the southern province of Guangxi issued the sentence Tuesday, but the American's next steps will not become clear until a written judgement is released at an unknown future date, Dui Hua Foundation director John Kamm told AFP.
Phan-Gillis was currently being held in a detention centre, not a prison, and did not plan to appeal, he said.
Kamm said "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.
A United States Embassy spokeswoman in Beijing said Wednesday her trial was closed to the public and a request to have a consular officer attend had been refused. A US consular representative had been allowed to attend the public announcement of the verdict.
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.
Last year, WGAD 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 its 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, WGAD said.
Her husband, Jeff Gillis, has campaigned for her freedom, including with a website "savesandy.org". Phan-Gillis has family origins in southern China but was born in Vietnam, the website says, leaving the country in the late 1970s as part of the exodus of "boat people" who fled Communist rule.