China says two U.S. citizens arrested in September have been released on bail

BEIJING (Reuters) - China said on Thursday that two U.S. citizens who were placed under criminal detention in late September have been released on bail and are awaiting trial on charges of illegally moving people across country borders.

Alyssa Petersen and Jacob Harlan, who worked for U.S.-based education company China Horizons, were detained in eastern China late last month and have been in contact with U.S. officials, said foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang.

China Horizons said in a social media post last week that the company has been operating in the country for 17 years and that it believed the charges were “bogus”.

Geng did not elaborate on the details of the case, but said public security officials had detained the pair according to the law and that it had notified the U.S. side in a timely manner.

The U.S. embassy in Beijing said it was aware of the detention of two citizens in China. “We take seriously our responsibility to assist U.S. citizens abroad and are monitoring the situation,” a spokesman for the embassy said on Thursday.

Arrests and deportations of foreign citizens working in education have risen sharply in China over the past year, amid a wide scale campaign to clean up the country’s education system and promote patriotic education values.

Schools and lawyers say that under the crackdown authorities have increased scrutiny of visa documentation. In China, foreigners are required to hold a bachelor degree to obtain a work visa, though the rules are not widely enforced.

Crowdfunding pages for Petersen and Harlan posted on a China Horizons’ social media site note that they helped U.S. college students acquire visas to teach English in China.

“Because of increasing political and economic problems between the U.S. and China, we are no longer able to send teachers to China safely,” said the company in a social media post, adding that it planned to close the business by the end of October.

(This story has been refiled to correct spelling of formerly detained U.S. citizen’s name to Petersen, not Peterson, in paragraph 2 and 8)

Reporting by Michael Martina and Cate Cadell; Editing by Alex Richardson