TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) – A Chinese professional tennis player has not been seen in public after she accused a former top government official of sexual harassment, after she allegedly sent an email claiming she was safe. and the allegation is false, a message that only raises concerns about his safety and demands information about his well-being and whereabouts.
So far, those calls have been met with silence.
Chinese officials have not said anything publicly since Grand Slam doubles champion Peng Shuai accused him of sexual assault two weeks ago. The first #MeToo case to reach the political realm in China has not been reported by domestic media and its online discussion is highly censored.
Women’s Tennis Association president and CEO Steve Simon questioned the authenticity of what Chinese state media said was an email to her in which Peng said she was safe and that the attack was untrue. This was posted on Thursday by CGTN, the international arm of Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.
Simon wrote, “I’m having a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes he is being attributed.”
The statement, he said, “only raises my concerns about his safety and whereabouts.”
Simon has called for a full investigation, and the WTA said it was ready to kick the tournament out of the country if it did not receive an appropriate response. Top players including Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic have spoken, and the hashtag Where Pengshui is trending online.
International Tennis Federation spokeswoman Heather Bowler said on Thursday that the governing body was in contact with the Chinese Tennis Federation and the WTA and the International Olympic Committee.
“The safety of players is always our top priority and we support a full and transparent investigation into this matter,” Bowler wrote in an email to the Associated Press. “While we have not spoken to the player, we are in contact with the National Tennis Association (CTA) in China if they may be able to provide any further information or updates.”
China has largely suppressed a #MeToo movement that flourished sometime in 2018 and is going ahead with the Beijing Winter Olympics in February despite calls for a boycott by activists and some foreign politicians over China’s human rights record Is.
When asked repeatedly about the matter, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian again said on Thursday that he was unaware of it.
Peng, 35, is a former number one player in women’s doubles, having won titles at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014.
She wrote in a lengthy social media post on November 2 that former deputy prime minister Zhang Gaoli, a member of the ruling Communist Party’s top leadership committee, had forced her to have sex three years ago despite repeated refusals. Was.
The post was quickly removed from her verified account on Weibo, a major Chinese social media platform, but screenshots of the explosive allegation quickly spread across China’s Internet. She has not appeared in public since then, raising questions about her whereabouts and whether she is being detained.
Zhang, who is 75, was removed from the public eye after his retirement in 2018, as has always been the case for former senior executives. He has no close relation with the current leaders.
Peng’s allegation is the first high-profile allegation of sexual harassment against a powerful politician in China. The previous allegations touched prominent figures in the nonprofit world, academia and the media, but never reached top Communist Party officials or state-owned companies.
CGTN posted the statement on Twitter, which is blocked in China along with several other foreign platforms such as Google and Facebook. It did not post it on Chinese social media, nor was there any mention of the alleged email behind the Great Firewall, which separates the Chinese Internet from the rest of the world.
Some Internet users have posted about news in private social media groups, bypassing controls. Freeweibo.com, which records censored posts from Weibo, said searches for “Peng Shuai” and “Zhang Gaoli” were among the top 10 searched topics on Thursday.
A search of Peng Shuai’s name on China’s Sogou search engine yields only articles about his tennis career. Her account on Weibo no longer allows comments, and no results come up if people search for her Weibo account.
Peng wrote that Zhang’s wife guarded the door during the alleged assault, which was followed by a round of tennis. Her post also said that they had sex seven years ago and that he had feelings for her after that. She also said that she knew it would be difficult to speak.
“Yeah, aside from myself, I kept no evidence, no recordings, no videos, only a real experience of my folded self. Even if I’m destroying myself, like a Throwing an egg against a rock, or a worm flying into a flame, I’ll still speak the truth about us,” the now-deleted post said.
His allegation came just three months before Beijing hosted the Winter Olympics, which has been the target of a boycott campaign by several human rights organizations largely over the repression of China’s Uighur Muslims. The Games face potential diplomatic boycotts by the United States and other countries. Rights groups have compared Beijing’s 2022 Olympics to Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics. China has consistently denied human rights abuses and says its actions are part of counter-terrorism programs.
Peng has played in three Olympics. The IOC said in a statement on Thursday that “we have seen the latest report and are encouraged by the assurance that it is safe.”
The Switzerland-based IOC, which derives 73% of its income from selling broadcast rights and another 18% from sponsors, has not criticized China, and frequently reiterates that it is merely a sports business and based on the policies of a sovereign. There is no exemption for working. State.
The WTA can handle the pressure better as it is less dependent on income from China than the IOC or the NBA. The Basketball League lost an estimated $400 million in broadcast rights when China blacked out its games in the 2019-2020 season after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of protesters in Hong Kong.
Simon’s statement said Peng has shown incredible courage, but he is still concerned about his safety.
“The WTA and the rest of the world need independent and verifiable proof that it is secure,” he wrote. “I have repeatedly tried to reach him through multiple forms of communication, to no avail.”
Associated Press sports writer Stephen Wade in Tokyo contributed.