American woman sentenced to life in China for spying


A 78-year-old American woman, Sandy Phan-Gillis, has been sentenced to life imprisonment in China after being convicted of espionage and stealing state secrets. Phan-Gillis, who was part of a trade delegation from Houston, Texas, was detained during her visit to China in 2015. This case has strained the already tense relationship between the United States and China, as the two nations have been at odds over trade, human rights, and security matters.

American woman sentenced to life in China for spying

Arrest and Trial

Phan-Gillis was arrested by Chinese authorities in March 2015 as she was preparing to leave China after a five-day visit with a group of Houston business leaders. She was accused of spying on behalf of the US government and passing classified information to a third party between 1996 and 1998. Initially, she was held incommunicado for six months before being formally charged in September 2016. In April 2017, she faced a closed-door trial in Nanning, the capital of Guangxi province. Throughout the proceedings, Phan-Gillis pleaded not guilty, firmly denying any involvement in espionage activities.

Evidence and Verdict

During the trial, the prosecution presented a confession letter purportedly written by Phan-Gillis, which her lawyers claimed was coerced and fabricated. The letter stated that she had worked as an agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), collecting information on Chinese officials, military personnel, and economic development plans. The defense argued that the letter contradicted Phan-Gillis’s personal and professional background and that no supporting evidence existed. However, the court dismissed the defense’s arguments and found Phan-Gillis guilty of espionage and stealing state secrets. On May 15, 2017, she was sentenced to life imprisonment, with her personal property confiscated.

Reactions and Implications

Phan-Gillis’s family and legal representatives expressed shock and dismay at the verdict, demanding her immediate release. They viewed her case as political persecution and claimed that her health had deteriorated during her detention. They vowed to appeal the verdict and sought diplomatic intervention from the US government. The US State Department expressed deep concern regarding the outcome and raised the issue with Chinese officials at the highest levels. It called on China to ensure fair treatment and due process for all American citizens within its borders. The verdict has sparked concerns about the safety and rights of other Americans in China or those traveling there, particularly those with connections to Taiwan or Hong Kong, which China considers part of its territory.


Phan-Gillis’s case represents one of the harshest sentences given to a foreigner in China for espionage in recent years. It underscores the escalating tensions and lack of trust between the United States and China, stemming from conflicts over trade, human rights abuses, cyberattacks, and territorial disputes. Moreover, this verdict serves as a chilling reminder that individuals with any connections or interests in China could face accusations of spying at any time. The impact on future relations between the two countries remains uncertain. Will there be any possibility of Phan-Gillis’s release or clemency? These unanswered questions leave the outcome of this news story uncertain.

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