19 November 2021

WTA calls for investigation into Peng Shuai situation

The World Tennis Association (WTA) has called for a full investigation, after tennis star Peng Shuai (彭帅) accused former Vice President of China Zhang Gaoli (张高丽) of coercing her to have sex with him three years ago. The WTA also told CNN that it would be prepared to pull all events out of China if Peng’s allegations are not properly investigated, reports The Guardian.

The allegations stem from a 2 November post on Chinese social media network Weibo, which disappeared half an hour after it has been posted. An unverified translation was posted on Twitter (see below), which appears similar to a translation of an apparent screenshot of the original (also below), conducted by The Sports Integrity Initiative.

If the two translations are accurate, Peng alleges that three years ago, Zhang invited her to his house following his invitation to play tennis in Beijing. It appears that Peng and Zhang had previously been in a long term relationship, which ended seven years ago when Zhang was appointed to the Standing Committee of the China Communist Party.

It is understood that Peng initially refused to have sex with Zhang, but after having dinner with him and his wife, he coerced her into having sex with him. After this, if the translations are accurate, their renewed relationship continued until he ended it.

It is understood that Peng has not been seen in public since the allegations were made. CGTN, a State media channel, published an email it claimed was from Peng to Steve Simon, WTA Chairman and CEO, stating that the allegation of sexual assault is ‘not true’ (below). 

“The statement released today by Chinese state media concerning Peng Shuai only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts”, read a response from Simon. “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.

“Peng Shuai must be allowed to speak freely, without coercion or intimidation from any source. Her allegation of sexual assault must be respected, investigated with full transparency and without censorship. The voices of women need to be heard and respected, not censored nor dictated to.”

Simon’s comments were backed by Amnesty International. “Peng’s recent so-called statement that ‘everything is fine’ should not be taken at face value as China’s state media has a track record of forcing statements out of individuals under duress, or else simply fabricating them”, said Doriane Lau, Amnesty International’s China Researcher, in a statement. “While it is currently difficult to speculate on the reasons behind Peng Shuai’s apparent disappearance, what is clear is that her allegations of sexual violence by a senior politician must be properly investigated by the Chinese authorities.

“The Chinese government has systematically silenced the country’s #MeToo movement. Given that it also has a zero-tolerance approach to criticism, it is deeply concerning that Peng Shuai appears to be missing after accusing a high-ranking former government official of sexual assault. These concerns will not go away unless Peng’s safety and whereabouts are confirmed.”

In September, journalist Huang Xueqin (黄学琴) and friend Wang Jianbing (王建兵) went missing shortly before Huang was due to catch a flight to the UK to begin a Maters degree at the University of Sussex on a Chevening Scholarship. Huang had conducted research projects concerning sexual harassment in China and was involved in China’s fledgling #MeToo movement. Both the University of Sussex and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) have expressed concern for the pair’s safety.

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