Peng Shuai denies accusing Chinese politician of sex attack

Tennis star Peng Shuai now claims she DIDN’T accuse China’s vice premier of sexually-assaulting her in first interview since vanishing after making the allegation – but WTA fears she’s STILL being censored

  • Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, 35, claimed in a new interview that she did not accuse the country’s vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her
  • Peng disappeared from the public eye for three weeks after she made a post about the alleged assault on the Chinese social media site Weibo
  • In a recent interview, she claims the post had been misinterpreted and that it was a private matter
  • The interview with Singapore based media outlet Lianhe Zaobao marks the first time she has addressed the matter since the post had been made

Tennis star Peng Shuai has claimed that she did not accuse China’s vice premier of sexual assault in her first interview since she vanished after she made the allegation.

Speaking to a Singaporean news outlet Lianhe Zaobao on Sunday, she said: ‘First, I need to stress one point that is extremely important, I have never said or written that anyone has sexually assaulted me, I have to clearly stress this point,’ Peng said in the video posted by the outlet. 

She said that her post on Weibo, a Twitter-like social media site, which had been quickly removed, was a ‘private matter’. 

Peng said in the video that ‘people have many misunderstandings’ about her post on Chinese social media site Weibo, which is monitored and regularly censored by China’s communist government. She did not elaborate.

She also said that she had been living at home in Beijing without supervision. She did not mention Zhang Gaoli, the man she accused of abusing her. 

But the World Tennis Association – which was hailed for suspending women’s tennis games in China in the wake of Peng’s disappearance – said Sunday night that it was convinced the star was still being censored and not being allowed to speak freely. 

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, 35, spoke out in a recent interview and denied the alleged assault that took place with the country’s vice premier Zhang Gaoli

Peng is pictured on Sunday around the same time she gave her first interview  

The World Tennis Association has since said it fears Peng, pictured Sunday, is still being censored  

A spokesman said: ‘We remain steadfast in our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern.’ 

Peng, 35, had written a post in November on the Chinese social media platform Weibo that the country’s vice premier Zhang Gaoli sexually assaulted her in 2018 with his wife present. 

She then disappeared from the public eye for three weeks after she made the post which has since been deleted.

The allegations also prompted the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) to suspend tournaments in China.  

Peng disappeared from the public eye for three weeks after she made a post on Chinese social media making the allegations on November 2

She claims that Gaoli and had sexually assaulted her in his home while his wife stood outside the door

In her original post, which was translated to English, Peng detailed the assault that took place with Gaoli and his wife.

‘I have no proof, and it would be impossible for me to keep any evidence,’ the post read. 

‘You denied everything afterward. That afternoon I originally did not consent and cried the whole time.’  

Peng wrote that she couldn’t provide evidence to underpin her allegation, but was determined to speak out.

‘Like an egg hitting a rock, or a moth to the flame, courting self-destruction, I’ll tell the truth about you,’ she warned Zhang.

The post was deleted by state censors within half an hour and Peng’s Weibo account went dark. The Chinese internet was also swiftly ‘cleansed’ of references to the star; comments about her were disabled and other keywords blocked.  

Early this month, the WTA, which has sought a direct line of communication with Peng, said it would suspend tournaments in China immediately due to concerns over the treatment of Peng and the safety of other players.  

‘In good conscience, I don’t see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault,’ WTA head Steve Simon said in the statement announcing the WTA’s decision.

‘I am also greatly concerned about the risks that all of our players and staff could face if we were to hold events in China in 2022.’  

China has not directly commented on Peng’s initial post, but said after the WTA’s move to suspend tournaments in China that it ‘opposes the politicization of sports.’ 

WTA head Steve Simon called for the suspension of tournaments in China after the accusations were made

Pro-Chinese government editor Hu Xijin, a prominent state media journalist, has used Twitter to comment on the scandal, and was among the first to publish images and videos of her appearances, serving as a de facto messenger to the world outside. Twitter is blocked in China.

He has said that these appearances by Peng should have been enough to relieve or eliminate most concerns for the player, but that people were ‘aiming to attack China’s system and boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics’.

‘WTA is coercing Peng Shuai to support the West’s attack on Chinese system. They are depriving Peng Shuai’s freedom of expression, demanding that her description of her current situation must meet their expectation,’ he said on Twitter. 

Peng’s disappearance had initially prompted calls to boycott the upcoming Winter Olympics. It coincided with calls from global rights groups and others for a boycott over its human rights record.    

Peng joined IOC President Thomas Bach for a Zoom call in November. The IOC said it ‘was relieved to see that Peng Shuai was doing fine’

Peng said in the video posted on Sunday that she had personally written a letter last month to Simon, in which she denied the allegation of assault, and that an English translation of it by Chinese state media was accurate.

Simon had said at the time that he ‘had a hard time believing’ that Peng had actually written the email or believed what had been attributed to her.

Peng did not speak with a majority of Western-based media outlets about the controversy but held two video calls with The International Olympic Committee (IOC) to assure them she was doing fine.   

In one of the calls, she ‘thanked the IOC for its concern about her wellbeing’.

‘She explained that she is safe and well, living at her home in Beijing, but would like to have her privacy respected at this time,’ a statement released by the IOC said. 

‘That is why she prefers to spend her time with friends and family right now.’ 

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