China says two detained Americans have been released on bail

Domestic News

Jacob Harlan, left, and Alyssa Petersen, right

UPDATE: Multiple sources have confirmed that the allegation we published earlier that the detained pair may have been engaged in missionary work is not true. We have this from firsthand sources who knew the pair, and from several reliable sources who confirm that “the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints (known colloquially as Mormons) do not proselytize officially or unofficially anywhere in the PRC.”

Our apologies for the error. 

Two Americans, Jacob Harlan and Alyssa Petersen, were reportedly detained near Shanghai three weeks ago, Voice of America reports, though they have reportedly been released on bail. From VOA:

[On] Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Petersen and Harlan have been released on bail and granted access to U.S. consular officials.

Voice of America first reported on the Americans’ detention on Wednesday, allegedly for “illegally moving people across borders”:

Alyssa Petersen, who attended the Idaho campus of Brigham Young University from 2014 to 2017, has been arrested and detained in a Chinese jail outside Shanghai, according to social media posts by China Horizons, her employer, and her parents. After not hearing from her for weeks, her family discovered she had been arrested by Chinese police sometime around the end of September. Her employer Jacob Harlan, who owns China Horizons, was also reported detained.

The charges are “bogus, as she has been doing this for 8+ years with no issues,” the family stated.

Petersen is director of China Horizons, an English language program that provides a cultural experience for American college students who teach English in Chinese schools. She assisted Harlan in coordinating visas and travel arrangements, according to the company’s Facebook page.

The Washington Times (a highly partisan news source) says that “the timing of the arrests coincided with the arrest of a Chinese official in New York on visa fraud charges,” and that the detentions in Jiangsu “appear to be a Cold War-style hostage-taking.”

Meanwhile, Dan Harris of the China Law Blog was quoted in the New York Times with this chilling statement:

“China has become a risky place. 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.”