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Future unclear for Rexburg educator jailed in China the past two years

Crime Watch

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REXBURG — As COVID-19 continues to lock down parts of China, the director of a former Rexburg-based English teaching program remains stuck behind bars in the country.

Monday marks two years since police in China’s Jiangsu Province arrested Alyssa Petersen, the director of China Horizons. According to an update posted on a GoFundMe page for Peterson, a resolution to the case and a possible chance for her to come home remains uncertain even though she went to trial in China’s court system back in May.

“We haven’t heard anything from Alyssa since June since they’re not allowing her monthly phone call with her consulate representative either,” the post reads. “They’ve since shut down the prison and court system because of COVID in China so we just keep waiting … We can only hope that she is doing ok and staying strong.”

China Horizons closed its doors in October 2019 after Petersen and her boss, Jacob Harlan – the owner and founder of the company — were accused and arrested for illegally moving people across borders. The Rexburg company allowed college students to visit China and teach English to students.

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

“So many people have asked how they can help,” the GoFundMe post from Wednesday says. “We would love to send Alyssa messages of support and love from anyone who would feel inclined to send them. We have been told that the consulate faxes messages to the prison once a month and that they are given to her to read.”

Those interested in writing a message to Petersen can comment on the GoFundMe page or send them via text or Facebook message to any of her family members.

RELATED | Two with Rexburg-based teaching program back in Chinese custody as lawmakers appeal to Trump

Harlen’s case remains uncertain as updates to his GoFundMe page ceased in 2020. His family has requested privacy since his arrest.

The case against former China Horizons leaders garnered the attention of United States legislators with the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, which sent a letter in January 2020 to President Donald Trump.

The commission called 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.

RELATED | Families want answers after two employees of Rexburg company are detained in China reached out numerous times last year to the Trump administration and received no response.

To help with legal costs, the fundraising goal on Petersen’s GoFundMe Page has raised $52,165 thus far. Harlen’s GoFundMe Page has raised $51,330.

Our attorneys tell us we need to put this disclaimer in stories involving fundraisers: does not assure that the money deposited to the account will be applied for the benefit of the persons named as beneficiaries.