NEWS

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai ‘appears at youth sporting event’

Peng Shuai, the Chinese tennis star whose welfare has been the focus of intense international concern, appeared at a youth tennis event in Beijing on Sunday morning, according to photos posted online by the event’s organiser.

The former top-ranked doubles player disappeared from public view earlier this month after a post on her Weibo social media account on November 2 accused a retired, high-level government official of coercing her into sex several years ago.

Peng was standing at the sidelines of the Fila Kids Junior Tennis Challenger Finals, according to photos posted on an official WeChat page for the event, hosted by China Open.

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Video of Peng at the event was also shared on Twitter by several state media reporters earlier on Sunday morning.

The appearance follows several other online posts in the past two days purporting to show Peng’s present activities. The content was shared by the state media reporters, but not the tennis player.

Peng’s appearance on Sunday follows immense pressure on China to release information about the athlete’s whereabouts.

The Women’s Tennis Association, high-profile athletes, the White House and the United Nations have expressed concern about her well-being, with many using the viral hashtag #WhereisPengShuai.

WTA chief executive Steve Simon has called for confirmation of Peng’s safety and freedom and said the WTA will “seriously consider” pulling its tournaments out of China if the requests are not met.

In a letter to Qin Gang, Chinese ambassador to the US, on Friday, Simon urged the envoy to help with “independent and verifiable confirmation” that Peng was safe.

He said she should be allowed to travel overseas or speak live via teleconference to Simon with no one else present, unless by her permission. He also said the sexual assault allegation should be investigated “fairly, fully, transparently and without censorship”.

“If Peng Shuai is not safe, free to move about, or to speak freely, we have grave concerns that none of our players will be safe in China,” Simon wrote in a letter posted by a New York Times reporter, adding that he had tried a “wide variety of means to speak directly with Peng, with no success”.

Peng Shuai ‘will show up in public soon’, Chinese tabloid editor says

 

According to the WTA, the senior official at the centre of the sexual assault allegation is former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli. Neither Zhang nor the Chinese government have commented on the allegation.

The WTA told Reuters that the photographs and video footage of Peng that emerged on Sunday were “insufficient” and did not address the association’s concerns.

In a separate statement on Saturday, Simon also said videos shared on Twitter that day appearing to show Peng dining at a restaurant in Beijing were “insufficient” to confirm if she was free and acting without coercion.

“I am glad to see the videos released by China state-run media that appear to show Peng Shuai at a restaurant in Beijing. 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.

“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.”

Writing in English on Twitter, Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of state-run tabloid Global Times, said he had “acquired” the videos at the restaurant, whose “content clearly shows they are shot on Saturday Beijing time”.

Shen Shiwei, an editor for Chinese broadcaster CGTN, also shared images on Twitter of Peng playing with a cat and stuffed animals, purporting to be from her personal WeChat account.

The posts came after CGTN shared a screenshot of an email purportedly written by Peng, in which she is quoted as saying the claims of sexual assault are not true.

Twitter is blocked in China, so the reporters’ posts were for an international audience.

Peng’s own Weibo account remains unsearchable on the popular platform, after the original post containing the allegations was scrubbed from the internet. She has not publicly shared information about herself since then.

Women’s Tennis Association head casts doubt on purported Peng Shuai email

After the footage was posted on Saturday, US-based feminist Lu Pin, said the information released was “absurd and illogical”.

“They disallow Peng Shuai from directly reaching people and disallow people independently checking and confirming her condition. They deny Peng Shuai the right to free speech and access to her social media accounts,” she wrote on Twitter.

The case comes just months before Beijing is scheduled to host the Winter Olympics, which rights groups have already suggested should be boycotted over concerns about China’s human rights record.

The Athletes’ Commission of the International Olympic Committee said on Saturday that it was “very concerned” for Peng and hoped contact with her could be established.

The IOC declined to comment on Friday, instead of saying it favored “quiet diplomacy”, according to multiple reports.

The White House, Britain’s foreign office, and the UN’s human rights office all have called for proof of Peng’s whereabouts and safety, and investigation of the allegations in recent days.

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