Bi-partisan Committee Urges State Department to Issue Travel Advisory for China After Detention of Houston Woman

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A congressional committee is urging Secretary of State John Kerry to issue a travel advisory for China, saying the case of a Houston woman detained there since March without clear charges is “deeply troubling.”

Sandy Phan-Gillis, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Chinese ethnicity, visited China in March along with a trade delegation that included Houston’s mayor pro-tem Ed Gonzalez and local developer Vincent Chau.

She was detained when the group passed through an immigration-control checkpoint connecting the southern Chinese city of Zhuhai with Macau, a self-administered peninsula beyond the jurisdiction of mainland law enforcement.

“We respectfully request that you personally call on the Chinese government to immediately release Ms. Phan-Gillis and update us on what specific actions the United States government has taken to seek consistent consular access and secure her release,” the chairs of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, said in a letter.

The committee includes Rep. Christopher Smith, (R-N.J.); and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), said in their letter this week.

Days passed before China’s state security agency notified the U.S consulate in Guangzhou that Phan-Gillis was being investigated on suspicion of stealing state secrets and spying. Her detention was kept secret until it was publically revealed in September when she was moved from a form of house arrest to a higher-security detention center in Nanning, Guangxi, and a province along the Vietnam border.

Under Chinese law, Chinese authorities can hold a person for six months while they investigate allegations. The government then has up to 37 days to issue charges or present its case in court. The government can also prolong the delay for another six months if they obtain up to three extensions.  Although the 37-day deadline has passed, it’s currently not clear whether Phan-Gillis has been issued charges, or whether the government has pursued an extension to hold her.

“It seems advisable for the State Department to consider issuing a travel advisory for China, so that Americans, including untold numbers who routinely conduct business in the mainland, are aware of the potential risks,” the commission said in its letter.

In its response to a commission inquiry made in December, the State Department said that 110 American citizens have been detained, imprisoned, or released on bail or probation in China this month. About 40 of those were reportedly held on charges related to their commercial activity. Another 15 are being held in China until business disputes can be resolved..

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