There are growing concerns for the safety and whereabouts of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai who vanished two weeks ago after accusing a retired politician of rape and has not been heard from since, aside from in an email presented by state media that the World Tennis Association says is fake.
Shuai, 35, accused Zhang Gaoli, Former Vice Premier of the People’s Republic of China, of rape two weeks ago and has not been seen or heard from since.
She wrote on a post on Weibo that she’d been invited to the home he shares with his wife for a meal in 2018, and that he assaulted her, after having an on-off affair with him for many years. She deleted the post within minutes, but has not been seen or heard from since.
As stars like Andy Murray, Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams joined calls to find her this week, Chinese state media presented what they said was a proof of life email which said the rape allegation was not true, and that she was fine.
‘Hello everyone, this is Peng Shuai…the news in that release is not true, not is the allegation. I’m not missing or unsafe.’
Tennis star Peng Shuai accused Zhang Gaoli, Former Vice Premier of the People’s Republic of China, of rape two weeks ago and has not been seen since
On November 2, Shuai posted this lengthy Weibo post where she claimed Gaoli had raped her in 2018 after inviting her to his home to play tennis with him and his wife. It vanished within minutes and she hasn’t posted since. Searches for her account on Weibo now are blocked, and the word ‘tennis’ was also blocked in the immediate aftermath of the post
WTA CEO Steve Simon on Thursday quickly cast doubt on the email.
‘I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her.
‘Peng Shuai displayed incredible courage in describing an allegation of sexual assault against a former top official in the Chinese government.
‘The WTA and the rest of the world need independent and verifiable proof that she is safe.
‘I have repeatedly tried to reach her via numerous forms of communication, to no avail,’ he said in a statement on Thursday.
The Lawn Tennis Association in London on Friday released a statement calling the situation ‘disturbing’ and ‘very concerning’.
‘The immediate priority is to establish that Peng Shuai is safe and well and, furthermore, that she is able to speak freely and not subject to any form of censorship,’ it said.
On Wednesday, a state-owned Chinese media organization posted this email which they said Shuai had sent to the World Tennis Association, claiming she was safe and retracting the allegation. The WTA says the email is fake
Serena Williams joined the calls to find Shuai on Thursday, tweeting with the hashtag #whereispengshuai
Naomi Osaka posted this message on her social media accounts earlier this week after hearing of Shuai’s disappearance
Serena Williams is among stars who are now using the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai to try to bring attention to the case.
‘I am devastated and shocked to hear about the news of my peer, Peng Shuai.
‘I hope she is safe and found as soon as possible. This must be investigated and we must not stay silent.
‘Sending love to her and her family during this incredibly difficult time,’ Williams wrote on Twitter.
Naomi Osaka shared a similar appeal on her social media accounts earlier in the week.
Gaoli is shown in 2017, shaking hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He was a prominent figure in the China’s Communist Party and is now estimated to be around 75. The accusation against him is the biggest #MeToo moment in China
‘Hey everyone, not sure if you’ve been following the news but I was recently informed of a fellow tennis player that has gone missing shortly after revealing that she has been sexually abused.
‘Censorship is never OK at any cost, I hope Peng Shuai and her family are safe and OK.
‘I’m in shock of the current situation and I’m sending love and light her way.’
Shuai took to Weibo on November 2 to claim she’d been having an affair with Gaoli that was on-off until he rose in the Communist Party and stopped contacting her.
She said he then got back in touch in 2018 to invite her to play tennis with him and his wife at their home and have dinner with them afterwards.
It was during that visit to his home that she claimed he raped her.
Shuai acknowledged in her Weibo post that she could not present any kind of proof to support her allegations.
Within 30 minutes, the post was taken down and searches for her name and even the word ‘tennis’ had been blocked on Chinese internet searches, pointing to the government’s swift and harsh censorship of anyone who dares to speak out against it.
The Chinese media is, according to The Guardian, largely ignoring the story for fear of retribution, and the government has officially claimed that it does not know what of the issue.