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Case against former China Horizons director stalls while she sits in Chinese jail

Rexburg

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REXBURG — The director of a former Rexburg-based English teaching program remains behind bars in China and her family is left wondering what’s next.

In September 2019, local police in China’s Jiangsu Province arrested Alyssa Petersen, the director of China Horizons. The Rexburg company allowed college students to visit China and teach English to students. The local government said Petersen and her boss, Jacob Harlan – the owner and founder of the company — were illegally moving people across borders.

“It has been a while since we have updated you all regarding Alyssa,” Petersen’s family said on a GoFundMe page Wednesday. “That is mainly due to the fact that we haven’t had any update for a while.”

In October 2020, the family announced they learned Petersen’s case would go to trial after local police were reportedly asked to investigate further before prosecutors would pursue the case. Shortly after the “uplifting news” that would’ve meant Peterson could return home, things changed.

RELATED | Case against China Horizons director Alyssa Petersen to go to trial in China

“We were told that the case has now been sent to the ‘highest authority’ and they will be the ones to determine what happens,” the update says. “We don’t really understand — and neither does anyone else it seems — what that means as far as a timeline but we do know we haven’t received any news since causing us to have any hope that an end might be in sight.”

Since the arrest of Petersen and Harlan, China Horizons closed its doors in Rexburg. In January 2020, 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.

EastIdahoNews.com reached out numerous times last year to the Trump administration and received no response.

In her initial time in jail, Petersen had monthly visits with United States embassy officials. However, because of COVID-19, that changed and contact with people to the outside remains limited other than letters, according to the family.

RELATED | Families want answers after two employees of Rexburg company are detained in China

“As far as her mental health, she says some days she is ok and some days she isn’t,” the update reads. “Everything being put on hold has been hard for her.”

To help with the rising legal costs, the fundraising goal on the GoFundMe Page has increased and the family has raised $47,974 thus far.

Details about Harlan’s case remains limited. The GoFundMe Page for him has not been updated in 11 months but has raised over $50,000.

“We want to thank all of you who follow Alyssa’s case and who continue to keep her in your thoughts,” Petersen’s family writes. “It has been a long, hard year and a half and we would never have made it through without all the people who have shown such kindness towards our family and to Alyssa.”

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