Two Americans Detained in China

Two Americans, Jacob Harlan and Alyssa Petersen, were detained in Jiangsu Province in late October, and the company they work for, China Horizons, has closed down. Harlan is the owner and Petersen is the director of the company. The group helped bring English teachers and volunteers to China, and describes itself as, “an program that offers an immersive experience within a Chinese school.” The Chinese government announced they had been detained for “illegally moving people across borders.” Anna Fifield reports for the Washington Post:

A GoFundMe page set up to help Harlan with legal costs says that police picked up him and his 8-year-old daughter, Viara, from their hotel in Weifang in eastern China.

They took Harlan’s phone and computer and he was not allowed to contact his wife at home in Utah with their four other children for 48 hours, the post says. Then Viara was allowed to call her mother and leave China with a family friend.

[…] Petersen is the company’s director, based in Rexburg, and a student at Brigham Young University at Idaho, according to a GoFundMe page her parents set up. She has been traveling to China for a decade, including for China Horizons.

She was detained on Sept. 27 and has been held in a jail in Zhenjiang ever since, her parents said. She has had no contact with anyone apart from a consular officer, who is allowed to see her only once a month, they said. [Source]

The detentions come amid continued trade tensions between the two countries and as foreigners, including several language teachers, have been increasingly targeted for detention in China. Two Canadians–Michael Kovrig, a researcher for International Crisis Group and a former diplomat, and Michael Spavor, a consultant for businesses trying to work in North Korea–have been held since last December on state secrets charges and denied access to lawyers or their families. Todd Hohn, a pilot for FedEx, was detained in Guangzhou in September and investigated for “weapons smuggling” after air gun pellets were found in his luggage. He was later released on bail but has been unable to leave China. Amy Qin reports for The New York Times:

The detentions are the latest in a series of prosecutions that add to a growing sense of unease among Americans and other Westerners in China. Among the most prominent of such cases is the ongoing detention of two Canadians on charges of espionage — a move that was made apparently in retaliation for Canada’s arrest of a prominent executive of Huawei, a Chinese technology giant.

“China has become a risky place,” Dan Harris, a lawyer at Harris Bricken, a firm that specializes in investment with China, said in an email. “If you are going to do business there you had better know what the laws are and you had better follow them, because China is not going to let anyone slide, especially not an American or a Canadian.”

[…] It is unclear when or where trials for Mr. Harlan and Ms. Petersen will be held. A spokesman for the United States Embassy in Beijing said United States officials were aware of the detentions and were “monitoring the situation.”

The police in Zhenjiang did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Thursday. [Source]

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