Case against China Horizons director Alyssa Petersen to go to trial in China
REXBURG — The case against the director of a former Rexburg-based English teaching program will go to trial in China.
In September 2019, local police in China’s Jiangsu Province arrested Alyssa Petersen, the director of China Horizons. The former Rexburg company allowed mostly college students to visit China and teach English to students for a semester. The local provincial government said Petersen and her boss, Jacob Harlan – the owner and founder of the company — were illegally moving people across borders.
In an update on a GoFundMe Page, Petersen’s family says the Chinese prosecutors submitted the case to the courts for the setting of a trial date. Previously the family stated local provincial police were asked to investigate further before prosecutors would pursue the case.
“The new lawyer for Alyssa has done a great job. He was able to identify certain errors in the translations and clarify other cultural misunderstandings,” the GoFundMe Page reads. “But in the end, the prosecutors decided that they would still bring the case to trial. This may be due in part to the current US-China tensions.”
As the legal team for Petersen prepares for trial, her family asks for a renewed effort in donations to cover the cost. Additionally, they say Petersen will accrue extensive medical costs when she returns to the United States.
“You have all been so generous,” Petersen’s family writes. “We feel your faith and prayers. We have seen miracles and pray for more miracles. But we also need your continued financial support to reach our overall goal so we can help Alyssa come home!”
Since the arrest of Petersen and Harlen, China Horizons closed their doors in Rexburg, however, the case has not left the attention of lawmakers. In January, United States legislators with the Congressional-Executive Commission on China sent a letter to President Donald Trump.
The commission is calling the Chinese government’s imprisonment or arbitrary detention of Americans deeply concerning. They also pointed out the arrest of Petersen and Harlan coincides with the detention of a Chinese official in the U.S. on visa fraud charges.
While Sen. Jim Risch did not sign the letter, he told East Idaho News during a visit to eastern Idaho Thursday that his office is well aware of the situation.
“These people have been detained for things they would not be detained for in the United States,” Risch said. “I can tell you this. I have a staff that deals directly with the agency in the State Department that is dealing with this particular case.”
The State Department has employees who regularly see Harlan and Petersen, and check on their wellbeing, Risch told East Idaho News.
“We are doing everything we can behind the scenes to move this to a better place than where it is,” Risch said.
Risch said the government has been successful in similar cases around the world, particularly a pastor in Iran visiting family that was in a prison for several years but ended up being released.
“In the meantime, it is just a horrible catastrophe for the family as they sit and worry about their loved ones that are in prison in a different country,” Risch said.
The status of Harlan’s case remains unknown.