- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

DALLAS (AP) - An American businesswoman arrested in China on claims she spied and stole state secrets is being held in solitary confinement and is interrogated at least once a day, her husband said Wednesday.

Jeff Gillis said his wife, Phan Phan-Gillis, 55, met earlier Wednesday with an American consulate official.

Her health has stabilized after suffering from ailments since she was taken into custody in March while traveling with a trade delegation from her hometown of Houston, he said.

Gillis explained his wife is allowed to retain lawyers to monitor her health and relay messages to family, but not to discuss the accusations against her. She has not been charged, and Chinese authorities have not specified the allegations against her. Gillis said her lawyers in China had been told she’s accused of stealing state secrets.

“The only way she’s going to get released is if President Barack Obama takes an active interest in her case,” Gillis said.

Phan-Gillis was detained for months before being formally arrested last weekend and moved to a more secure detention facility in the southern city of Nanning.

She said in comments relayed to her husband that her case is a political one, not criminal, and requests that he “lobby for an exchange of political prisoners” that would win her release.

Gillis said there’s no indication any sort of prisoner exchange would be considered but noted there are many Chinese in the U.S. that the Chinese government wants returned for prosecution for stealing state money or other crimes.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has accused Phan-Gillis with threatening China’s national security. Attempts to reach a Chinese Embassy official in Washington, D.C., for further explanation were unsuccessful.

U.S. Rep. Al Green, whose district includes the Houston area, said Wednesday the U.S. State Department has indicated that Phan-Gillis’ incarceration will be discussed during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit this week to the U.S.

“Her circumstance is one that will be discussed at high levels while we have the president of China here,” Green said.

He said Gillis showed “restraint” in not speaking publicly about his wife’s detention for six months. Gillis says her formal arrest last weekend prompted him to speak out.

“I have to conclude that this is a big mistake that can be corrected with her being released,” Green said.

Phan-Gillis is the latest in a string of foreigners held this year in China allegedly for economic- or security-related crimes.

A group of 11 foreigners were detained for a week in July and later deported for organizing or joining terrorist groups. Chinese police say the group - five South Africans, three British and one Indian - admitted to watching videos advocating terrorism.

A British private investigator and his Chinese-born American wife were released in June after two years in prison allegedly for illegally obtaining and selling private information of Chinese citizens.

And in February a Canadian man with ties to a Christian group that provided humanitarian aid to North Korea was detained on suspicion of stealing state secrets. The case strained ties between Canada and China.

Phan-Gillis, known as Sandy to family and friends, is a Vietnamese-American of Chinese descent who has lived in Houston for about 30 years.

She’s a business consultant who traveled regularly to China and who also served as president of the Houston Shenzhen Sister City Organization. She often worked as an intermediary in ventures between U.S. and Chinese business interests.

Houston Mayor Pro Tem Ed Gonzalez on Tuesday said he was a member of the trade delegation in March that was surprised when Phan-Gillis did not meet them after the group passed through a border security checkpoint at Macau, across the Pearl River Delta from Hong Kong. She later contacted the delegation to say she was attending to a “personal matter.”


Researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York City contributed to this report.

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