Issued on: 19/11/2021 – 11:50Changed: 19/11/2021 – 17:58
The United Nations on Friday demanded proof of Peng Shuai’s whereabouts and well-being as international concerns grew for the tennis star, who has been missing since the allegation she had been sexually exploited by a former deputy prime minister in China.
The UN insisted on a completely transparent investigation into the allegations made by Peng, a former world-ranked double-ranked double player, against Communist Party leader Zhang Gaoli.
Tennis stars, sports bodies and governments and human rights defenders also spoke for Peng, 35, and demanded information.
The head of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) said he was prepared to sever lucrative business relations with China if Peng remains unexplained and her allegations of sexual assault are not investigated.
Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka have also expressed their concerns about one of China’s biggest players ever.
“It would be important to have proof of her whereabouts and well-being,” Liz Throssell, a spokeswoman for the UN Office for Human Rights, told reporters in Geneva.
“According to available information, Peng, a former world number one, has not been heard from in public since she claimed on social media that she had been sexually assaulted.
“We call for a full transparency investigation into her allegations of sexual assault.”
WTA threatens China to withdraw
Peng claimed on Chinese social media Weibo earlier this month that Zhang, now in her seventies, had “forced” her to have sex during a lengthy on-off relationship.
The allegations were quickly scrubbed from the Twitter-like platform and she has not been seen since.
The WTA, the world’s leading body for women’s tennis, has called for evidence that Peng is safe.
Its boss Steve Simon said he is willing to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in Chinese business in one of the WTA’s largest markets to secure Peng’s security.
“We are certainly willing to pull our business and deal with all the complications that come with it,” Simon told CNN.
“Women must be respected and not censored,” he added.
Tennis legend Serena Williams also demanded an investigation.
“I am crushed and shocked to hear about the news of my peer Peng Shuai,” the former single world number one wrote on Twitter.
“This must be investigated, and we must not remain silent.”
Peng represented China at the Olympics in Beijing, London and Rio de Janeiro 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 organizations were concerned about Peng’s situation.
“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 the UK, offered its assistance to the WTA in its efforts to establish Peng’s safety.
Peng’s claims brought the #MeToo movement into the upper 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 China researcher Doriane Lau.
“Given that it also has a zero-tolerance approach to criticism, it is deeply worrying that Peng Shuai seems to be lacking,” 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 on Friday that he did not believe that “Peng Shuai has received retaliation and repression speculated by foreign media for what people were talking about.”
Earlier this week, the state-run CGTN posted 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 her previous accusations are “not true” and says she “rests at home and everything is fine”.
However, doubts were quickly highlighted about the awkward language used in the alleged email and the cursor that was visible on the screen.
Simon said he had a hard time believing the email was authentic.
“I do not think there is any validity in that and we will not be comfortable until we have a chance to talk to her,” he said.
Amnesty’s Lau said: “China’s state media has a track record in forcing statements out of individuals under duress, or even simply fabricating them.”