WTA concerns persist after videos of Peng Shuai emerge

Worrying sign: Peng Shuai disappeared from public sphere after accusing a former Vice-Premier of sexual abuse. AP  

The head of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has expressed fresh concerns about Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai after government-affiliated media on Sunday released videos purported to be showing she was safe and in Beijing, amid growing concerns around the world about her safety.

Ms. Peng had not been seen in public for two weeks after she had posted a message on November 2 on Chinese social media site Sina Weibo alleging sexual abuse by a senior former Communist Party leader and former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli. The message was promptly deleted while news of the allegations remains completely censored in China. Ms. Peng’s page on Weibo, a Twitter-equivalent, has also largely remained inaccessible and no longer shows up in search results.

Watch | What happened to Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai?

On Sunday, new videos were posted on Twitter, a website blocked in China, by Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of the Global Times, a newspaper published by the Communist Party’s official newspaper the People’s Daily, showing Ms. Peng purportedly appearing at a youth tennis event in Beijing. Mr. Hu said the event had taken place on Sunday morning. He also released two videos of Ms. Peng having dinner with friends, which he said was from Saturday night in Beijing.

The videos could not be independently verified. It also was not clear who filmed the dinner and why. In one of the videos from the dinner, one of Ms. Peng’s companions mentions explicitly during a minute-long clip that the date of their gathering was on the day before November 21, one of several curious details that led to questions whether the entire video was aimed solely at addressing concerns voiced abroad about Ms. Peng’s safety even while her allegations remained censored within China. In recent days, a number of tennis stars including Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic have spoken out about the case.

‘Video alone insufficient’

In a statement issued in response to the videos, WTA chairman Steve Simon said he was “glad to see the videos released by China state-run media that appear to show Peng Shuai at a restaurant in Beijing” but remained concerned about Ms. Peng.

“While it is positive to see her, it remains unclear if she is free and able to make decisions and take actions on her own, without coercion or external interference,” he said.

“This video alone is insufficient. As I have stated from the beginning, I remain concerned about Peng Shuai’s health and safety and that the allegation of sexual assault is being censored and swept under the rug. I have been clear about what needs to happen and our relationship with China is at a crossroads.”

Last week, the WTA had revealed it had failed to reach Ms. Peng after “repeatedly” trying to contact her. It also raised questions about a statement purported to be from Ms. Peng that was released by Chinese English-language broadcaster China Global Television Network (CGTN). In the statement, which appeared to be a screenshot of a Word document, that was shared on Twitter by CGTN, Ms. Peng said she was “fine” and “resting” at home. It could not be verified whether she did indeed write the statement and how China’s state broadcaster obtained a screenshot of the document.

“Hello everyone this is Peng Shuai,” the statement began. “Regarding the recent new released on the official website of the WTA, the content has not been confirmed or verified by myself,” it said, referring to the WTA expressing concern about Ms. Peng and the allegations. “The news in that release,” it continued, “including the allegation of sexual assault, is not true. I’m not missing, nor am I unsafe. I’ve just been resting at home and everything is fine.”

Mr. Simon said Ms. Peng “displayed incredible courage in describing an allegation of sexual assault against a former top official in the Chinese government”, and added that the “allegation of sexual assault must be respected, investigated with full transparency and without censorship.”

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2022 1:22:24 AM |

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