A company bringing U.S. teachers to China announced that China arrested two of its members running an English language school on “bogus charges.”
In a post on their Facebook page, “China Horizons” confirmed the company would be closing down following the arrest of owner Jacob Harlan and director Alyssa Petersen in Jiangsu province last month, citing increasing political and economic problems between the U.S. and China.
“Over the past 17 years we have had the great opportunity to help you experience China in a personal and unique way,” the statement read. “We are grateful for the memories and relationships that have been built over the years.”
“Unfortunately, because of increasing political and economic problems between the U.S. and China, we are no longer able to send teachers to China safely,” it continues. “As a result, our company will be closing our doors at the end of October.”
Over the past 17 years we have had the great opportunity to help you experience China in a personal and unique way. We would like to thank all of the participants who have made China an unforgettable experience through our program.
“We hope that one day the relationship the United States has with China will be in a better place. May your time in China stay with you and help you to have a positive impact on the world.”
The statement also announced that the two Americans had been “detained” for nearly two weeks already while admitting the grim reality that they could face months or even years behind bars.
“Because of the changes that are taking place in China right now the owner, Jacob Harlan, and the director, Alyssa Petersen, have been detained in China for 13 days now and may be so for the next few months or years,” the statement read.
“They are being charged for bogus crimes and their families are working on getting them international lawyers to help them get back home to the states,” it continued. “If you would like more information and would like to help, there are 2 separate GoFundMe accounts that have been created for them both.”
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he did “not see any concrete links” between their detention and U.S.-China relations.
According to Petersen’s GoFundMe aimed at supporting her legal fees, Petersen was detained by authorities on September 27 and has since been held in a facility in Zhenjiang city and is said to be “doing OK.”
Harlan’s GoFundMe explains that he and his eight-year-old daughter were taken by police from the hotel in which they were staying. His daughter was later allowed to board a flight home to Utah accompanied by a family friend, and the family is said to be “doing well under the circumstances.”
China’s “English-teaching Industry” has seen substantial growth over the past two decades, with thousands of Americans going out to teach for relatively high salaries. However, many face problems securing visas and navigating the “strict control of life” under the Chinese Communist Party.
Speaking to the South China Morning Post on the condition of anonymity, a U.S. State Department official confirmed that they were monitoring the situation and the detainees were receiving “all appropriate consular services.”
“We are aware of the detention of two US citizens in Jiangsu, China and the charges being brought against them by the provincial government,” the official said. “We take seriously our responsibility to assist US citizens abroad and are monitoring the situation.”
Dan Harris, founder of the international law firm Harris Bricken, wrote in a June blog post that his firm had received an increasing number of inquiries about the problems foreign teachers were experiencing this year as relations between China and the West “started going into straight line decline.”
“The China employment relationship is complicated and if done wrong, employees can and do end up in jail,” he wrote.
“Living and working and doing business in China is way more legally complicated than 10 years ago, and tolerance of foreigners in China, particularly for Americans, is way down. That means that the likelihood of you going astray of Chinese law is considerably higher as well.”