An American woman who had been arrested and detained near Shanghai, China, since late September has been released on bail, her family announced Monday.
Alyssa Petersen, 28, was working for Idaho-based China Horizons, a cultural exchange program, when she was arrested September 27 and accused of “moving people across borders,” according to social media posts by China Horizons and her parents.
Petersen and China Horizon founder Jacob Harlan, who was also detained, coordinated visas and travel arrangements for young Americans to teach English to young Chinese in China, according to the company’s Facebook page.
Petersen is now confined to the city of Zhenjaing and is restricted from leaving China while on bail, her family said on a GoFundMe page set up to help with her legal fees.
Petersen “looks good and is positive and has a good attitude,” Saren Combs, GoFundMe organizer for the Petersen family, wrote on the site. Combs described herself as "Alyssa's sister" on the GoFundMe page.
When her family had not heard from Petersen for weeks in September, they notified U.S. authorities, Combs said.
Combs wrote that the family is unsure when Petersen will be able to leave China and return to Idaho.
“The process for their release will take some time and so updates on their return will become less frequent,” a post on the China Horizons Facebook page said. The post was dated October 26.
Chinese authorities earlier said Petersen had been released October 17, according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang. However, her family stated this week that she had not been released until November 4.
“The U.S. Department of State and our embassies and consulates abroad have no greater responsibility than the protection of U.S. citizens overseas,” a spokesperson for the U.S. Consulate General in Shanghai said. “We are aware of this case and have provided consular services. We take seriously our responsibility to assist U.S. citizens abroad and will continue to monitor the situation.”
China Horizons operates an English-language program that provides a cultural experience for American college students who teach English in Chinese schools. On October 11, the company announced on Facebook, "because of increasing political and economic problems between the USA and China, we are no longer able to send teachers to China safely. As a result, our company will be closing our doors at the end of October."
The company, which said it has been sending students abroad for 17 years, said it is working to bring its teachers back to the U.S.
Of Petersen and Harlan, the company said in a Facebook post, "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."
From the GoFundMe page for Petersen, Combs wrote, "Words cannot adequately express how thankful we are for the prayer, kindness, compassion and love our family has been given at this time."
Petersen’s family, when contacted by VOA, declined to comment.