What happened to Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai? What we know so far, in 10 points
The Chinese government is notorious for its control over the country's media and censoring any social activity that goes against the government or its officials. This time, tennis star Peng Shuai has gone missing. Here's what we know so far.
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Former world No. 1 doubles and Chinese tennis player, Peng Shuai has not been seen in public since she claimed that the former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli had coerced her into sex at his home. She accused the official in a now-deleted social media post dated November 2 on Weibo, China's Twitter-like platform. The post was deleted 30 minutes later, and her Weibo account has since become unsearchable to users.
1. There has been a global outcry demanding to see and hear from one of China's most popular sportspersons. Tennis stars such as Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Novak Djokovic and Chris Evert have expressed concern. Along with them, the International Tennis Federation, Women's Tennis Association, Amnesty International and UN Human Rights office have all released statements asking the Chinese government proof of her whereabouts.
Peng Shuai. Photo: Associated Press
2. Liz Throssell, the spokesperson of the UN Human Rights office, told reporters in Geneva on November 19, "What we would say is that it would be important to have proof of her whereabouts and wellbeing, and we would urge that there be an investigation with full transparency into her allegations of sexual assault."
3. The same day, the White House also said it was "deeply concerned". Jen Psaki, White House Press Secretary, told reporters, "We are deeply concerned by reports that Peng Shuai appears to be missing after accusing a former PRC (Peoples Republic of China) senior official of sexual assaults. We join in the calls for PRC authorities to provide independent and verifiable proof of her whereabouts and that she is safe."
4. WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon demanded Chinese authorities investigate Peng's allegations and that the Association would gladly pull out hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business if Peng is not fully accounted for and her allegations are not properly investigated. He said in an interview with CNN, "We're definitely willing to pull our business and deal with all the complications that come with it. Women need to be respected and not censored."
5. In response to Steve's statement, China's state-owned television broadcaster CGTN released an email purportedly from Peng in which she says that she is fine and is taking back her sexual allegations. This email was released only on English-language platforms. Local Chinese media has not reported on its contents, even though Peng is a household name in the country.
6. WTA Chairman Steve expressed doubts over this email and called it a staged statement. He said, "Whether she was coerced into writing it, someone wrote it for her, we don't know but at this point I don't think there's any validity in it and we won't be comfortable until we have a chance to speak with her."
7. CNN reported that after this, CGTN journalist Shen Shiwei tweeted three photos claiming Peng had posted them on WeChat along with the message "happy weekend". On the next day, Hu Xijin, editor of Chinese state-run tabloid Global Times, republished the photos of Peng. He tweeted, "I confirmed through my own sources today that these photos are indeed Peng Shuai's current state. In the past few days, she stayed in her own home freely and she didn't want to be disturbed. She will show up in public and participate in some activities soon."
Peng Shuai. Photo: Associated Press
8. CNN was unable to 'independently verify when the photos were taken, whether Peng posted the photos herself, or whether they were posted at all'. Chinese state media Twitter accounts have also begun to increasingly post 'anonymously sourced information' about Peng to calm the outrage over her whereabouts but are not acknowledging her claim against Zhang.
9. On November 21, Peng Shuai said she was safe and well in a video call with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, said the committee. The Committee released a statement after the call which read, "At the beginning of the 30-minute call, Peng Shuai thanked the IOC for its concern about her wellbeing. She explained that she is safe and well, living at her home in Beijing, but would like to have her privacy respected at this time. Nevertheless, she will continue to be involved in tennis."
(Point to note: Beijing hosts the Winter Olympics 2022 in February.)
10. Later on the same day, the WTA released a statement saying, "This video does not change our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern."
THE O: The Chinese government is notorious for strictly controlling the country's propaganda authorities and censoring any social activity that goes against the government or its officials. This is not the first time a prominent Chinese personality has gone missing from the limelight immediately after making controversial statements (remember when Jack Ma went missing last year after he made comments on the Chinese financial system?). Under such intense external scrutiny, will the Chinese government finally loosen its censorship policies?