Taipei, Taiwan (NWN) – Chinese professional tennis player who has not been seen in public since she accused a former senior government official of sexual assault, allegedly sent an email claiming she was safe and that the accusation was false, the message, which only heightened concerns about her safety and demands for information on her well-being and whereabouts.
So far, there has been silence on these calls.
Chinese officials have not said anything publicly since Grand Slam champion Peng Shuai accused her of sexual assault two weeks ago. The first #MeToo case, which made its way into China’s political sphere, was not reported in the local media and was heavily censored on the Internet.
WATCH: What we know about tennis star Peng Shuai and China’s #MeToo censorship
Steve Simon, chairman and chief executive officer of the Women’s Tennis Association, questioned the authenticity of what the Chinese state media said was a letter addressed to him, in which Peng said she was safe and the assault charges were false. It was published Thursday by CGTN, the international arm of China’s state-owned broadcaster CCTV.
“I find it hard to believe that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is attributed to her,” Simon wrote.
The statement, he added, “only makes me worry about her safety and whereabouts.”
Simon demanded a full investigation, and the WTA said it was ready to withdraw the tournaments from the country if it did not receive a corresponding response.
Top players including Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic performed, and the WhereisPengShuai hashtag is trending on the internet.
China has largely suppressed the #MeToo movement, which flourished briefly in 2018 and is moving forward towards the Beijing Winter Olympics in February, despite calls from activists and some foreign politicians to boycott China’s human rights record.
Answering repeated questions about the case, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Thursday that he was not aware of the matter.
Peng, 35, is a former No. 1 women’s doubles player who won titles at Wimbledon in 2013 and French Open in 2014.
On November 2, she wrote in a large social media post that Zhang Gaoli, a former deputy prime minister who was a senior member of the ruling Communist Party, forced her to have sex despite repeated refusals three years ago.
The post was quickly deleted from her verified account on Weibo, China’s leading social media platform, but screenshots of the explosive accusation quickly spread across the Chinese internet. Since then, she has not appeared in public, which raises questions about her whereabouts and detention.
Zhang, 75, has disappeared from the public eye since his retirement in 2018, as is usually the case with former high-ranking officials. It is not known that he has any close ties to the current leaders.
Peng’s charge is the first high-profile accusation of sexual assault against a powerful politician in China. Past allegations have involved prominent figures in the nonprofit world, academia, and the media, but never reached the top officials of the Communist Party or state-owned companies.
CGTN posted a statement on Twitter, which is blocked in China along with many other overseas platforms such as Google and Facebook. He did not post it on Chinese social media, and there was no mention of the alleged email behind the Great Firewall that separates the Chinese Internet from the rest of the world.
Some internet users bypassed the controls and posted the news on private social media groups. Freeweibo.com, which records censored Weibo posts, reported that requests for “Peng Shuai” and “Zhang Gaoli” were among the top ten topics on Thursday.
Searches for Peng Shuai on the Chinese search engine Sogou only find articles about her tennis career. Her Weibo account no longer allows commenting, and no results appear if people search for her Weibo account.
Peng wrote that Zhang’s wife was guarding the door during the alleged attack that followed the tennis game. Her post also says that they had sex seven years ago, and after that, she had feelings for him. She also said that she knew it would be difficult to speak.
“Yes, besides myself, I didn’t keep any evidence, no tapes, no videos, only the real experience of my perverted self. Even if I destroy myself, like throwing an egg on a stone or a moth flies into the flame, I will still speak the truth about us, ”reads the deleted post.
Her indictment came just three months before the Winter Olympics were held in Beijing, which was the target of a boycott campaign by several human rights organizations, mainly due to China’s crackdown on Uyghur Muslims. The Games face a diplomatic boycott by the United States and other countries. Rights groups compare the 2022 Beijing Olympics to Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics. China has consistently denied any human rights violations and claims that its actions are part of counter-terrorism programs.
Peng has played in three Olympic Games. The International Olympic Committee said on Thursday in a statement that “we have seen the latest reports and are encouraged by the assurances that she is safe.”
The Swiss IOC, which generates 73% of its revenue from broadcasting rights and an additional 18% from sponsors, has not criticized China and often reiterates that it is just a sports business and does not have the authority to act in accordance with the policies of a sovereign state. state.
Xu Guoqi, a historian at the University of Hong Kong, explained the difference between the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2022 Games.
“The big difference between the two games in Beijing is that Beijing was trying to please the world in 2008,” Xu recently told the Associated Press in an email. “In 2022, he doesn’t care what the rest of the world thinks about it.”
The WTA can afford to pressurize as it is less dependent on income from China than the IOC or the NBA. The basketball league lost nearly $ 400 million in broadcast rights when China shut down its games in the 2019-20 season after then-Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of protesters in Hong Kong.
Simon said in a statement that Peng has shown incredible courage, but he is still concerned about her safety.
“The WTA and the rest of the world need independent and verifiable proof that it is safe,” he wrote. “I have tried several times to contact her through various means of communication, but to no avail.”
Associated Press sports columnist Stephen Wade of Tokyo contributed.