Concerns persist over the fate of Peng Shuai, the Chinese tennis champion who accused a former top leader of the country in early November of forcing her to have sex. Since then, the 35-year-old former world number 1 doubles player has made no public appearance.
The shattering accusations were the first targeting senior Chinese Communist Party officials since the start of #metoo, a global movement against violence against women. Here is what we know.
The accusation and censorship
On November 2, a message posted briefly on the player’s official Weibo account (equivalent to Twitter in China) publicly revealed an extramarital affair with former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli. From 2013 to 2018, he was one of the seven most powerful politicians in China.
The text accuses Zhang Gaoli of having raped Peng Shuai, before making her his mistress. Now in his seventies, the latter did not react to these statements. So far, it has not been possible to determine whether the post was personally posted by Peng Shuai.
The champion’s post was quickly erased, but screenshots were taken. They were quickly censored on the Chinese Internet and still are. The accusation brought by Peng Shuai was however posted on Twitter – blocked in China -, which allowed him to know a worldwide echo.
In China, the name Peng Shuai still appears in Internet search results, but the case and searches involving the player and Zhang Gaoli are unsuccessful.
On Twitter, the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai has grown. The world’s greatest tennis players have used it to express their concern about him.
Former world number 1 Naomi Osaka said so “Shocked by the situation”. “Honestly, it’s shocking that she disappeared”, also told the press Novak Djokovic. American Serena Williams said to herself “Upset and shocked”. “It must be investigated and we must not remain silent”, she wrote on Twitter.
“I hope she will be found soon, because we are not talking about a tennis match or a competition here, but we are talking about human life”, for his part said the German Alexander Zverev.
On Friday, several countries, including the United States and France, said “Concerned” by the fate of the Chinese player. The United Nations (UN) asked for proof that she was doing well.
The WTA, which runs the women’s professional tennis circuit, called for “A thorough, fair and transparent investigation into the accusations of sexual violence made by Peng Shuai”. Earlier this week, WTA boss Steve Simon said he had “The confirmation, from several sources including the Chinese federation, that she was safe and not physically threatened”. Asked by AFP, the Chinese federation did not wish to make statements on this subject, as did the Chinese foreign ministry.
An email and photos that leave you perplexed
Chinese state television CGTN on November 17 published a screenshot of an email attributed to Peng Shuai that it allegedly sent to the WTA leadership. The English channel aimed at foreign audiences reveals its supposed content: the accusations “Are false” and Peng Shuai claims that she ” to rest oneself “. ” Everything is fine. Thanks again for hearing from me ”, concludes the email. The content of the message and its authenticity puzzled Mr. Simon.
Four photographs of the tennis champion were posted on Friday by Shen Shiwei’s Twitter account, wording “Media affiliated with the Chinese state” through the social network. One photo notably shows the smiling player with a cat in her arms at what appears to be her home. The Twitter account in question claims, in English, that these photos were posted privately by the player to wish a ” have a nice week end “ to his contacts.
Hu Xijin, influential editor-in-chief of the Chinese daily Global Times, claims to have confirmation that these pictures are “Many current photos” by Peng Shuai. “In recent days, she has stayed at home in complete freedom and did not want to be disturbed”, he says in English on Twitter, specifying that the player “Will show up in public soon”.