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White House ‘deeply concerned’ over Peng Shuai situation. UN demands proof of star's well-being

‘We are calling for an investigation with full transparency into her allegation of sexual assault.’

Peng Shuai has been missing since alleging that she was sexually exploited by Zhang Gaoli, a former vice-premier of China.
Peng Shuai has been missing since alleging that she was sexually exploited by Zhang Gaoli, a former vice-premier of China.
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

Updated Nov 19th 2021, 9:19 PM

THE WHITE HOUSE and the United Nations have joined demands to establish the whereabouts and welfare of missing Chinese player Peng Shuai.

Peng has not been seen since making allegations of sexual assault against a former vice-premier in China two weeks ago, creating concern for her safety and wellbeing.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki 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.”

Liz Throssell, the spokesman for the UN Human Rights Office, echoed those concerns and called for an investigation “with full transparency” into Peng’s allegations.

Throssell told reporters: “(Peng) hasn’t been heard from publicly since she alleged on social media that she was sexually assaulted.”

The UN insisted on a fully transparent investigation into the claims made by Peng, formerly the world’s top-ranked doubles player, against Communist Party grandee Zhang Gaoli.

Tennis stars, sports bodies and governments and human rights defenders also spoke up for Peng, 35, and demanded information.

The head of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) said he was prepared to cut lucrative business ties with China if Peng remains unaccounted for and her sexual assault allegations are not probed.

Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka have also voiced their concerns for one of China’s greatest ever players.

“It would be important to have proof of her whereabouts and well-being,” Throssell, a spokeswoman for the UN Human Rights Office, told reporters in Geneva.

“According to available information, Peng, a former world doubles number one, hasn’t been heard from publicly since she alleged on social media that she had been sexually assaulted.

“We are calling for an investigation with full transparency into her allegation of sexual assault.”

Peng alleged on the Chinese social media site Weibo earlier this month that Zhang, now in his seventies, had “forced” her into sex during a long-term on-off relationship.

The claims were quickly scrubbed from the Twitter-like platform and she has not been seen since.

The WTA, the top world body for women’s tennis, has called for proof that Peng is safe.

Its boss Steve Simon said he is willing to lose hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Chinese business in one of the WTA’s biggest markets to ensure Peng’s safety.

Peng represented China in the Beijing, London and Rio de Janeiro Olympics and won gold for China at the 2010 Asian Games.

She is a former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion.

France said the international community and sports bodies were worried for Peng’s situation.

chinese-tennis-star-accuses-former-top-communist-party-leader-of-sexual-assault Shuai Peng in action in 2014. Source: Dubreuil Corinne/ABACA

“We are concerned about the lack of information,” the French foreign ministry said.

“We call on the Chinese authorities to implement their commitments in the fight against violence against women.”

The Lawn Tennis Association, the sport’s governing body in Britain, offered its assistance to the WTA in its efforts to establish Peng’s safety.

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Peng’s claims brought the #MeToo movement into the highest echelons of China’s ruling Communist Party for the first time.

“The Chinese government has systematically silenced the country’s #MeToo movement,” said Amnesty International’s China researcher Doriane Lau.

“Given that it also has a zero-tolerance approach to criticism, it is deeply concerning that Peng Shuai appears to be missing,” she said.

China has repeatedly refused to comment on her fate or the case.

But Hu Xijin, the editor of the state-run Global Times, tweeted Friday that he didn’t believe that “Peng Shuai has received retaliation and repression speculated by foreign media for the thing people talked about”.

Earlier this week, state-run CGTN published a screenshot on Twitter of what it said was an email written by Peng to Simon and other WTA officials.

In the email, Peng claims that her earlier accusations are “not true” and says she is “resting at home and everything is fine”.

But doubts were quickly flagged about the awkward language used in the purported email and the cursor visible in the screenshot.

Simon said that he was struggling to believe the email was authentic.

“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,” he said.

Amnesty’s Lau said: “China’s state media has a track record of forcing statements out of individuals under duress, or else simply fabricating them.”

© – AFP, 2021

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