A UN panel and a human rights group have demanded the release of a suspected US spy who has been "arbitrarily detained" by Beijing. The appeals come as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon prepares for a visit to China.
The arrest of the US businesswoman "badly damaged US-China relations," San Francisco-based Duihua group said on Wednesday.
Phan "Sandy" Phan-Gillis was seized at the end of a trade visit to China in March 2015, while crossing the border to the region of Macau with her Houston delegation. The Chinese authorities accused her of "spying and stealing state secrets," according to website savesandy.org.
The Vietnamese-born woman of Chinese descent allegedly spent six months in a secret location. The authorities then transported her to a detention center in Guangxi, initially placing her in solitary confinement.
UN panel slams Beijing
The US national was only allowed to see a lawyer 14 months into her detention, the Duihua activists said.
Over the weekend, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also called for Phan-Gillis to be released or given proper legal assistance. The UN panel ruled that "international norms relating to the right to a fair trial" had not been observed in her case.
Violations by Chinese authorities were of "such gravity as to give the deprivation of liberty of Ms. Phan-Gillis an arbitrary character," they added.
The report marked the first time the group ruled "that agents have arbitrarily detained an American citizen in violation of international human rights law," said John Kamm, executive director of The Dui Hua Foundation.
Ban heading to China
On Wednesday, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said that the defendant "has been treated well" and all of her rights "have been fully guaranteed." Lei also urged the UN experts to "respect China's judicial sovereignty and stop groundless accusations."
The businesswoman is currently the only American held on suspicion of espionage in China. Several Westerners, however, have been arrested in the past on similar charges.
The calls for Phan-Gillis' release come ahead of official visit to China by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Ban is set to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday and Premier Li Keqiang on Friday.