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Peng Shuai Claims, Whereabouts, Repercussions – What We Know

Peng Shuai is at the centre of international concern after the tennis star alleged last month that a powerful Chinese politician sexually assaulted her.

The 35-year-old Peng, a former world number one in doubles, was not seen in public for nearly three weeks and her explosive claim has been censored in China.

It was the first time that the #MeToo movement has struck at the top echelons of China’s ruling Communist Party.

Here’s what we know so far:

The allegation

On November 2, Peng posted on China’s Twitter-like Weibo damaging claims about former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli. Peng alleged that he had coerced her into sex during a long-time on-off relationship.

There has been no response from Zhang, who is in his seventies.

The censorship

Peng’s post was soon deleted, but not before social media users took screenshots. Those were censored on China’s heavily vetted Internet and still are.

But Peng’s allegation was posted to Twitter — which is banned in China — allowing it to reach a worldwide audience.

Peng still comes up on search results online in China, but her allegations do not, and searches for her and Zhang together also show nothing.

The outcry

On Twitter, #WhereIsPengShuai began to gain traction, with tennis players past and present using the hashtag to voice concern for her safety.

Four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka wrote that she was “in shock”, with tennis great Serena Williams stating she was “devastated and shocked” and calling for an investigation.

Men’s world number one Novak Djokovic said: “Honestly, it’s shocking that she’s missing.”

The official response

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) called for Peng’s allegations to “be investigated fully, fairly, transparently and without censorship”.

As the outcry grew, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the Biden administration wanted China to “provide independent, verifiable proof” of Peng’s whereabouts. The United Nations also weighed in.

After staying silent, the foreign ministry in Beijing said the case was being “maliciously hyped up”.

China’s tennis association did not reply to AFP requests for comment.

The email, phone call

There had been a fresh twist when China’s state-run CGTN published a screenshot on Twitter of an email it alleged was from Peng to the WTA in which she claimed her accusations were “not true” and “everything is fine”.

Doubts were quickly flagged about the awkward language and a cursor visible in the screenshot. WTA chief Steve Simon said it “only raises my concerns”.

Then in late November official photos of a Beijing tennis tournament showed Peng among the guests, and she participated the same day in a 30-minute video call with Thomas Bach, head of the International Olympic Committee.

The suspension

The WTA said on Wednesday it was suspending all tournaments in China, including Hong Kong, over continued concerns about Peng’s safety.

The WTA had planned 11 events in China this year, before Covid-19 forced them to be relocated or cancelled.

Simon said the organisation had “no choice” until Beijing responded to its calls for a transparent investigation into Peng’s allegations.

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