Jacob Harlan, top center, with his family. Harlan has been held in custody in China since September. (Amy Knutsen)

Jacob Harlan, top center, with his family. Harlan has been held in custody in China since September. (Amy Knutsen)

Man with ties to Poulsbo detained in China since September

Business trip ended by charges of human trafficking

POULSBO — Jacob Harlan of Poulsbo has been in custody in the Jiangsu Province of China on human trafficking charges since September, according to his family.

Harlan, a 1998 graduate of North Kitsap High School, and his 8-year-old daughter were traveling in China as part of Harlan’s business, China Horizons, a company that links teachers with Chinese schools to teach English.

According to Harlan’s family, he and his daughter were taken into custody in September on charges of human trafficking and transporting people across China’s borders without proper visa documentation.

Upon his arrest, Harlan had his phone, computer and other personal items taken from him, leaving him unable to contact his family for about two days. Eventually, his daughter was allowed to contact the family and allowed to travel with a family friend back to the United States.

Harlan was held under house arrest, where his family and international lawyers had contact with him until Dec. 31, when he was transported to a jail in the city of Zhenjiang, his family said.

Since that time, Harlan has only had contact with one member of the U.S. Consulate in China and an international lawyer. However, due to the spread of COVID-19, those visits have been limited, along with mail services and fresh food deliveries, family members said.

Harlan’s family has set up a GoFundMe page at www.gofundme.com/f/help-jacob-harlan to handle costs for international lawyer fees. As of Saturday, 386 people had donated a total of $50,085, surpassing the goal of $50,000.

Following his arrest, Harlan’s Idaho-based business was shut down. All of Harlan’s employees, except Alyssa Petersen, a director for China Horizons, returned home safely. Petersen also remains in custody.

Harlan was born and raised in Poulsbo and was active in the North Kitsap High School choir. According to his family, he had delivered papers for the North Kitsap Herald in his youth. He attended Brigham Young University in Idaho.

According to Harlan’s sister, Amy Knutson, it was his Mandarin professor who had encouraged him to take up a position in China teaching English. At the time Harlan was a newlywed, so for a year after they were married he and his wife lived in China. They returned to the states to start their family, but soon after their second child was born they returned to China for another year.

“He’s very familiar with China, loves the country, loves the people. It’s just unfortunate that the situation is the way that is for him right now,” Knutson said.

Knutson described her brother as being a very kind and family-oriented person and noted the fact that they haven’t had any contact with him since Dec. 31.

“I think just not having the daily contact with him is probably the harder part of all of it. Before, when he was arrested, he was in a hotel. Even though they took everything from him, they issued him a police cellphone and so we were still able to talk every single day,” Knutson said.

This was especially helpful for his children who range in age from 1 to 16 years old.

The U.S. Consulate in China has been able to speak to Harlan via phone and has been able to assure his family that all of his needs are being met.

Through donated funds, Harlan’s family has been able to hire an international lawyer to help bring him home, but due to the coronavirus outbreak, the jail housing Harlan has been shut down to visitors completely.

Publications including The Washington Post and The New York Times have inferred that the tensions between the U.S. and China have led to increased arrests of American citizens overseas.

The Chinese government has been adamant that the uneasy relationship between the U.S. and China has no bearing on these cases.

According to Knutson, many U.S. Senators have reached out to the family to ask if they would like to put Harlan on a list of names to put before President Donald Trump as part of a potential prisoner exchange with China.

“I think it’s very telling when we have senators reaching out to us, to the family, to say that we would like to put Jacob and Alyssa’s name before the president and hopefully work on a prisoner exchange. I think that speaks a lot,” Knutson said.


Jefferson County reporter Ken Park can be reached at kpark@peninsuladailynews.com.

More in News

Chris Johnson of Nordland-based Nordland Construction loads traffic drums onto a trailer as coworker Robert Bufford prepares to secure the load as the pair prepares to open the parking lot at Port Angeles City Pier to automobiles on Friday. The work was part of a project to improve storm drainage, replace damaged sidewalks and ADA ramps and mitigate shoreline erosion around the lot, which had been closed since early January. Tree replacement and other project detail work is expected to follow over the next few weeks.
City Pier parking open

Chris Johnson of Nordland-based Nordland Construction loads traffic drums onto a trailer… Continue reading

Sequim Citizen of the Year luncheon on Tuesday

Emiko Brock, Labbe, Olsen to be honored

EYE ON THE PENINSULA: Broadband, public health before county boards

Government meetings across North Olympic Peninsula

A pair of Clallam Transit buses sit at The Gateway Transit Center in Port Angeles in preparation for their fixed-route runs on Thursday. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)
Clallam Transit sees large rise in ridership

No issues seen with new zero-fare policy

Plans move ahead for Quilcene skate park

Jefferson County, volunteers seek grants

Peninsula College Foundation reports record levels of giving

Programs, students both recipients of funds

County to repave section of Carlsborg Road

Clallam County commissioners will consider awarding a contract for… Continue reading

A paving crew from Lakeside Industries replaces pavement on the Waterfront Trail and the entrance to the Port Angeles City Pier parking lot on Wednesday as part of a project to improve sidewalks and storm water drainage around the site. The project is expected to be substantially completed and the parking lot reopened by mid-March. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)
Port Angeles City Pier

A paving crew from Lakeside Industries replaces pavement on the Waterfront Trail… Continue reading

Port Townsend approves utility rate changes, renames skate park

Public hearing set for Transportation Benefits District

Slate of initiatives has upended Olympia, lobbyist says

‘Potential showstoppers’ described at Coffee with Colleen

Artist Chris Stevenson, who described herself as an urban sketcher from Port Townsend, uses a pencil for scale as she sketches the work at the new entrance to Point Hudson Marina on Monday morning. A group in town, the Port Townsend Urban Sketchers will meet at 10 a.m. Saturday to sketch at the Port Townsend Aero Museum. Sessions are free and open to sketchers of all skill levels. For more information, see www.urbansketchersporttownsend.wordpress.com. (Steve Mullensky/for Peninsula Daily News)
Marina art

Artist Chris Stevenson, who described herself as an urban sketcher from Port… Continue reading