REXBURG — Two Americans who ran a former English teaching program based in Rexburg are back behind bars in China as lawmakers are appealing to President Donald Trump for help.
On Sept. 27, 2019, authorities in China arrested Alyssa Petersen, the director of China Horizons. Two days later, police arrested Jacob Harlan the owner and founder of the company, which allowed college students to visit China and teach English as a second language. The arrest came with no notification to families as the local Chinese government claimed the two were illegally moving people across borders.
Both Petersen and Harlan were released on bail, but family has said the two were taken back into custody. United States legislators with the Congressional-Executive Commission on China sent a letter to Trump this month.
The commission is calling the Chinese government’s imprisonment or arbitrary detention of Americans deeply concerning.
“We request that you meet with the families of Americans whose loved ones are being held in China and that you persistently raise the following cases in discussions with Chairman Xi Jinping and other senior Chinese officials,” the letter to Trump states.
The commission claims the use of exit bans is reportedly used by China to get their way in business disputes or force Americans’ cooperation in investigations of relatives living outside China. They say this “de facto hostage-taking” violates China’s obligation to human rights and may also violate agreements made between the US and China.
The letter to Trump specifically mentions seven people, including Petersen and Harlan. The charge holding the two in China is the same as John Cao, a pastor who spent years building schools and providing economic help to ethnic minorities living in Myanmar. China sentenced Cao to seven years in prison in March 2018.
Although both Harlan and Petersen were released on bail after their September detention, the letter says families claim the Chinese government detained the two again Dec. 30. The arrest of the two coincided with the arrest of a Chinese official in New York.
“Raising speculation that the case was an act of retaliation by the Chinese government,” the letter reads.
The families are not commenting on the situation, saying they have been advised not to make statements.
“We actually do not know many of the details of the case since the investigation is ongoing, and it may be some time before Alyssa’s lawyer can have access to her case file,” a GoFundMe page for Petersen states.
The parents of Petersen were able to visit her while government officials released her on bail in November. The family wrote on the GoFundMe that Petersen “is doing good given the circumstances” while learning she will be in China for at least a year. During that time, she cannot work.
“It is heartbreaking for us as her family for Alyssa to be back in detention, and we appreciate so much all of the kindness and support we have received on her behalf so far,” family writes on GoFundMe. “There is still a long road ahead, so your continued faith and prayers and support are all appreciated more than we can ever express.”
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