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The 35-year-old went missing after accusing a state official of rape. Now she is allegedly back – and retracts her claims.
Peng Shuai was at the forefront of her game. The 35-year-old Chinese tennis star and former doubles world champion received international recognition for winning major titles at both Wimbledon and the French Open – and helped put Chinese tennis on the map.
Then one day in November, she disappeared from the public eye. After revealing on Weibo that she was sexually assaulted by a high-ranking Chinese official, Peng’s social media accounts were closed and her name was no longer searchable in Chinese search engines. The Women’s Tennis Association, along with a number of the world’s top tennis players (including Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams), expressed concern about Peng’s whereabouts. It wasn’t long before the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai became trending on Twitter and Instagram.
After several months, Peng suddenly reappeared. According to several news outlets, she retracted her sexual assault allegations in an interview published by a Singaporean newspaper. However, the revocation has done little to resolve concerns about Peng, who many believe was and still is the target of a Chinese government’s propaganda campaign. Here’s everything you need to know about the events that led to Peng’s mysterious disappearance – and where she is now.
In a reported 1,600-word post on Weibo, Shuai wrote that a retired vice premier pressured her to have sex with him. « Why did you have to come back to me, take me to your house, to force me to have sex with you? Yes, I had no evidence and it was just impossible to have evidence, ”she wrote on CNN. “I couldn’t describe how disgusted I was and how many times I wondered if I was still human? I feel like a walking corpse. I acted every day, who is the real me? « She also reportedly wrote, » That first afternoon I disagreed and cried the whole time. «
She also shared in the Weibo post that she had a consensual affair with the man over and over again before he became vice-premier. “You said you weren’t afraid,” Peng wrote, according to the New York Times, “but even if it’s all about me, like an egg hitting a stone or a moth in a fire pleading for self-destruction, I’ll tell the truth about you. ”
Peng’s allegations disappeared from Weibo in less than 30 minutes, and her name was banned from online searches. Even searches for « tennis » were temporarily blocked – but not before Peng’s allegations went viral and caught media attention around the world. According to a New York Times feature published with ProPublica:
A number of big tennis stars, including Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams, raised concerns about Peng – and urged China to get answers.
I’m down destroyed and shocked when I heard the news from my colleague Peng Shuai. I hope it is safe and found as soon as possible. This needs to be investigated and we must not be silent. Greetings to you and your family at this incredibly difficult time. #whereispengshuai pic.twitter.com/GZG3zLTSC6
The Women’s Tennis Association has decided to suspend all tournaments in China as it continues to have concerns about the safety of Peng. Steve Simon, head of the WTA, told CNN: « This is bigger than business, women have to be respected and not censored. »
Before the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing in 2022, Biden and the United Nations asked for proof of Peng’s whereabouts . White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a press conference the government has asked China to provide « independent, verifiable evidence » of its safety.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki says the Biden government was « deeply concerned » at reports that Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai is missing.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) claimed to have had two video calls with Peng since joining Weibo in November. According to CNN, IOC chairman Dick Pound said after the first call that Peng appeared « okay ». On a second call a few weeks later, the IOC again claimed that Peng appeared to be « safe and well ». The IOC will also meet her in person in January.
« We employ ‘silent diplomacy’ which, given the circumstances and experience of governments and other organizations, is the most promising way to act effectively on such humanitarian issues, » said an IOC statement.
Meanwhile, Peter Dahlin of the human rights NGO Safeguard Defenders has written an open letter to the IOC calling for the video calls with Peng, “eerily similar to a recurring CCP tactic of staged television appearances in which victims are shown and forced to perform « . by the police, often to counter international criticism. «
On November 17, the state broadcaster China Global Television Network (CGTN) tweeted an alleged statement by Peng in English assuring the world that she » is not missed, nor am I unsure. I just got a rest at home and everything is fine. Thank you again for taking care of me. ”In the message, Peng also revokes the allegations of sexual assault that she has made.
Steve Simon, head of the WTA, has called for an independent verification of Shuai’s whereabouts and safety. “I find it hard to believe that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received, or believes what is being attributed to her. Peng Shuai showed incredible courage when describing a sexual assault allegation against a former top Chinese government official. The WTA and the rest of the world need independent and verifiable evidence of their safety. I kept trying to reach her through a variety of means of communication, in vain, ”said Simon. “Peng Shuai must be allowed to speak freely, without coercion or intimidation from any side. Your allegation of sexual assault must be respected, investigated with full transparency and without censorship. ”
Since then, a handful of strange photos and videos of Peng have surfaced. Two days after she allegedly gave the testimony to CGTN, photos of Peng playing with a gray cat were posted on Twitter. CGTN has also posted videos of Peng appearing to be eating with her trainer (although Peng is not speaking).
In an interview with the New York Times, Pin Ho, a New York businessman who owns the Mirror Media Group, a Chinese-language news agency, said the state “bogged its head in the sand and shot these theatrical scenes one by one. « He added, » If someone says they are free while in the hands of a kidnapper, it is terrifying. « On December 19, the Chinese-language Singaporean newspaper Lianhe Zaobao published a video of Peng, which was reportedly recorded on Sunday on the sidelines of a ski event in Shanghai. A journalist asks about the sexual assault allegations, about which Peng says: “I want to highlight something very important. I never said that I wrote that someone had sexually abused me. I need to make this point very clear. ”
Shaui’s strange reversal has only raised suspicions: is this another attempt by Chinese officials to allay global concerns for their welfare? In response to the interview, the WTA released a statement to ESPN saying the organization remains concerned about Peng’s « ability to communicate without censorship or coercion. » these appearances do not address the WTA’s significant concerns about their wellbeing and their ability to communicate without censorship or coercion, « the WTA said in a statement to ESPN. « We stand by our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into their allegations of sexual assault, which was the issue that sparked our initial concern. »
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