Has tennis star Peng Shuai gone missing? All we know
Peng Shuai, the 35-year-old tennis player from China, is missing after she accused a senior government figure of sexual assault. Earlier this month, Peng, in a lengthy statement, said China's former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli had forced her into sex during a long-term relationship. Peng is yet to make a public appearance ever since. Besides, the tennis fraternity has been raising concerns over her whereabouts.
Why does the story matter?
On November 2, Peng posted a statement on Weibo, accusing Zhang, who served as China's vice-premier between 2013 and 2018, of sexual assault. In her post, Peng said she and Zhang had an on-off "extramarital relationship". The accusation made waves in the wake of China's #MeToo movement. However, the post was removed by China's sensors eventually. And, Peng hasn't been heard of ever since.
What did Peng write in the post?
Besides highlighting the extramarital affair, Peng said Zhang had stopped contacting her after he rose to prominence in the Communist party. However, nearly three years ago, Zhang invited her to play tennis with him and his wife where he sexually assaulted her in his house. Peng stated that she couldn't produce any evidence of the allegations but was determined to prove the same.
The response over Peng's controversial post
Although the sensors in China deleted Peng's post in less than 30 minutes, it went viral eventually. The Guardian reported "censors clamped down, blocking keywords like "tennis", disabling comments on Peng's account, and removing numerous references to her from China's internet". Moreover, none of the government officials, including Zhang, have made any public statement regarding the incident.
How did the tennis fraternity react?
In a recent development, the head of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) has stated that he will pull the tournaments out of China if Peng remains untraceable. WTA boss Steve Simon told CNN that he is willing to lose business in the China market to ensure Peng's safety. A number of other tennis stars, including Serena Williams, has voiced concerns for the same.
Williams calls for proper investigation
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. #whereispengshuai pic.twitter.com/GZG3zLTSC6— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) November 18, 2021
Here is what China's state-run broadcaster CGTN claimed
Earlier this week, China's state-run English-language broadcaster, CGTN, claimed that Peng had sent a mail to Simon. The broadcaster even tweeted a screen-shot of the text, which according to the former read, "The news in that [WTA press] release, including the allegation of sexual assault, is not true. I'm not missing, nor I am unsafe. I've been resting at home and everything is fine."
Are claims regarding the mail true?
Simon, who represents the WTA, dismissed the claims regarding the mail. "I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her," he said. As per The Guardian, "The language of the letter was similar to previous forced confessions by detainees in China, the screen-shot included a visible cursor in the text."
Peng Shuai is a two-time Grand Slam champion
Peng Shuai is a two-time Grand Slam champion in women's doubles. She won Wimbledon in 2013 along with Hsieh Su-wei, while the duo overcame Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci to win the 2014 French Open. In the same year, Peng reached the semi-final of the US Open (singles). Her last appearance in a Grand Slam tournament was at the Australian Open in 2020.