Chinese Tennis Star, Peng Shuai Reappears At Public Event Weeks After Making Sexual Assault Allegations Against Top Govt Official
Peng can be seen in a navy sports jacket and white track pants at Fila Kids Junior Tennis Challenger Finals, according to photos published on the official Weibo account of China Open — her first public appearance since her sexual abuse accusations were widely censored on the Chinese internet.
The two-time Grand Slam doubles champion had not been seen publicly since alleging earlier this month that former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli, now in his 70s, forced her into sex during an on-off relationship spanning several years.
Following a global outcry, including from tennis superstars and the United Nations, Chinese state media reporters have released a flurry of footage purporting to show all is well with Peng.
A video from the event, tweeted by Global Times newspaper editor Hu Xijin, shows Peng standing in a stadium among a group of guests whose names are announced to a smattering of applause.
A Global Times reporter tweeted another video showing Peng signing autographs for children at what appears to be the same stadium before posing for photos with them.
Hu also posted two other videos on Saturday, the first showing Peng walking into a restaurant wearing a coat, knit cap and face mask.
A visible sign says Beijing Yibin Guesthouse, a famous restaurant a stone’s throw from Tiananmen Square owned by the Sichuan local government.
In the second, Peng is maskless sitting at a table chatting with people over a meal.
AFP could not verify the authenticity of the videos.
Hu tweeted in English that the second video shows “Peng Shuai was having dinner with her coach and friends in a restaurant. The video content clearly shows they are shot on Saturday Beijing time.”
The conversation revolved around “tennis matches”. A man sitting with Peng and two women said “tomorrow is November 20th”.
However, one of the women quickly corrects him, saying, “It is the 21st”, implying that the video was filmed on Saturday.
The chat appears to be staged. It was filmed in the evening hours with a mobile phone. Peng appears relaxed in the footage.
Peng’s claims against Zhang were the first time China’s #MeToo movement has touched the highest echelons of the ruling Communist Party.
They were quickly scrubbed from the Twitter-like Weibo platform, and concerns have grown for her safety since.
On the restaurant videos, Women’s Tennis Association boss, Steve Simon said he was glad to see the images but “it remains unclear if she is free and able to make decisions and take actions on her own, without coercion or external interference”.
Simon in a statement said;
This video alone is insufficient. I have been clear about what needs to happen and our relationship with China is at a crossroads.
A WTA spokeswoman later told AFP that Sunday’s images from the Beijing tournament still did not address their concerns.
It has threatened to end lucrative contracts with China unless it gets word of Peng’s safety.
Chinese state-media journalists have released what they say is proof that all is well.
First, state-run CGTN last week tweeted a screenshot of what it said was an email from Peng to the WTA saying her accusations were not true and that “everything is fine”.
However, doubts were flagged about the awkward language and a cursor visible in the screenshot.
Then photos of a smiling Peng emerged Friday on the verified Twitter account @shen_shiwei, labelled Chinese state-affiliated media by the social network. The authenticity of the images could not be verified.
Peng Shuai’s WeChat moments just posted three latest photos and said “Happy weekend”.
Her friend shared the three photos and the screenshot of Peng’s WeChat moments. pic.twitter.com/tut8CEH6gu
— Shen Shiwei沈诗伟 (@shen_shiwei) November 19, 2021
These were followed by the videos posted on Saturday and Sunday.
China’s government has repeatedly refused to comment on the case. Discussion about Peng’s accusations is blocked on China’s tightly controlled internet.
A growing chorus of voices in the sports world and beyond want to know where and how Peng is.
The White House has expressed “deep concern” about Peng, with President Joe Biden’s press secretary saying his administration wanted China to “provide independent, verifiable proof” of her whereabouts.
Britain’s foreign office also said it was “extremely concerned” and urged China to release verifiable evidence, while France’s foreign minister said she should be allowed to speak freely to clarify her situation.
The UN has insisted on a fully transparent investigation into the claims made by Peng.
Some of the biggest names in tennis have spoken out about the case, including Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka.
Superstar, Roger Federer also weighed in on Saturday, saying on Sky News: “She’s one of our tennis champions, a former world number one. Clearly, it’s concerning. I hope she’s safe.”
Peng represented China at the Beijing, London and Rio de Janeiro Olympics and won gold for China at the 2010 Asian Games.
She is a former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion.