Concern for Peng Shuai’s whereabouts and health is growing. The 35-year-old Chinese tennis champion accused a senior Chinese leader in early November of forcing her to have sex and has not made a public appearance since.
Since the #MeToo worldwide movement to denounce violence against women began, Peng Shuai’s accusations were the first against senior officials of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
– The accusation –
On November 2, a message posted briefly on the player’s official Weibo account (equivalent to Twitter in China) reported that she had relations with former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli.
This man, one of the most powerful in China between 2013 and 2018, forced her, according to the tennis player, to have sex and made her his lover. Zhang, currently in his 70s, has not reacted to these statements.
It is unclear if the message was posted by Peng Shuai herself.
– The censorship –
The tennis player’s message was quickly erased, but it was too late because many people had taken photos of the screen. These images were also censored in China and remain so until now.
The accusation made by the tennis player was however published on Twitter, a social network blocked in China, which allowed the news to be known worldwide.
In China, the name Peng Shuai continues to appear in internet search results, but when searching for her name associated with Zhang’s, there are no results.
– The scandal –
On Twitter, the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai (where Peng Shuai is) is gaining traction. Big names in tennis used it to show their concern.
Former world number one Naomi Osaka said she was “shocked” by what is happening.
“It’s honestly shocking that he’s gone,” said world number one Novak Djokovic.
American Serena Williams declared herself “shocked” by the matter. “It must be investigated, we cannot remain silent,” the tennis player asked on Twitter.
“I hope they find it soon because we are not talking about a match, we are talking about a human life,” German Alexander Zverev commented.
– Diplomacy and the official response –
Several countries, including the United States, said “concerned” on Friday about the fate of the Chinese player.
The UN asked for proof that he is okay.
The WTA, which organizes the women’s professional tennis circuit, called for a “thorough, fair and transparent investigation into the allegations of sexual violence against Peng Shuai.”
Earlier in the week, WTA chief Steve Simon said he had “had confirmation from various sources, including the Chinese federation, that the player is in a safe place and is not physically threatened.”
– The email –
The Chinese public television CGTN published an image of an email attributed to Peng Shuai and addressed to the WTA.
This channel in English for foreign audiences says that the player admits that the accusations are “false” and that she is “resting.” “Everything is going well, thanks for taking an interest in me”, concludes the text.
The content of the message and its authenticity perplex Steve Simon.
– The pictures –
Four photos of the tennis champion are posted on the Twitter account @shen_shiwei on Friday. The authenticity of these images could not be verified by AFP.
One of them shows the smiling player with a cat in her hands in a place that looks like her home.
The Twitter account states in English that these photos were posted by the player to wish her followers a “good weekend”.
Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Chinese daily Global Times, says he has received information that guarantees “these are current photos” of Peng Shuai.
“These last few days, she was at home, free, and did not want to be disturbed,” she said in English on Twitter, explaining that Peng Shuai “will appear in public soon.”
bur-pst-bpa-sbr / fio / bl / jvb