Peng Shuai: Chinese tennis star denies sexual assault allegations against Zhang Gaoli, but WTA concerns persist


“I have never spoken or written about someone sexually abusing me,” Peng told Singapore-based Chinese-language newspaper Lianhe Zaobao on Sunday in its first comments to international media since the explosive allegations became known.

When asked if she could move around freely or was concerned about her safety, Peng said she was “always free” and lives in her home in Beijing.

The interview took place on Sunday on the sidelines of the cross-country skiing competition of the International Ski Federation in Shanghai, where Peng was also photographed with the Chinese basketball legend Yao Ming and two former Olympians: sailor Xu Lijia and table tennis player Wang Liqin.

Peng said there was a misunderstanding regarding the since-deleted social media post on her verified account on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform, which detailed the allegations on Nov. 2.

“First and foremost, it’s my privacy. There may have been a lot of misunderstandings so there shouldn’t be such a skewed interpretation here,” she said.

According to screenshots from this post, the two-time Grand Slam double winner accused former Vice Prime Minister Zhang Gaoli of pressuring her to have sex in his house three years ago.

The immediate response from the Chinese authorities was to censor any mention of the allegation online and to ban Peng’s Weibo account from search results. Peng disappeared from the public eye for more than two weeks, prompting the world’s biggest tennis stars and the United Nations to request answers about her whereabouts – as well as a full investigation into her allegations against Zhang.

The Chinese authorities have not acknowledged the sexual assault allegations against Zhang and the discussion on the issue continues to be censored in China.

Amid growing outrage around the world, people working for the Chinese government-controlled media and state sports system posted a series of “evidence of life” photos and videos of Peng. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it held at least two video calls with her and said the Chinese tennis star had “confirmed” that she was fine.

In the interview on Sunday, Peng expressed her appreciation for the IOC and said she was “very grateful” to the Olympic body and was “very happy to have video calls with them”.

Peng also said she wrote an email to WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon withdrawing the allegations “entirely of her own free will.” It was then that Simon questioned the validity of the email, saying, “We won’t be comfortable until we have a chance to speak to her.”
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A WTA spokesman told CNN on Monday: “It was good to see Peng Shuai in public and we obviously hope that she is fine.

“As we have found time and time again, these appearances do not mitigate or address the WTA’s significant concerns about its wellbeing and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion. We stand firm in our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation without censorship. into her sexual assault allegation, which sparked our initial concern. “

The incident led the WTA to announce an immediate suspension of all tournaments in China, including Hong Kong, on December 1. CEO Simon said the decision was based on “unacceptable” responses from Chinese officials, including a rush to censor Peng’s allegations and ignore them, calling for a full and transparent investigation.
The saga comes just months before the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, an event where several Western nations have announced that their diplomats will boycott China’s human rights record.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said the government hoped “malicious speculation” about Peng’s welfare and whereabouts would stop, and that her case should not be politicized. The ministry also said Peng’s situation was “not a diplomatic matter”.

CNN has repeatedly asked for comments from both Peng and the Chinese State Council, which handles press inquiries for the central government.

From 2012 to 2017, the 75-year-old Zhang served as Deputy Prime Minister alongside President Xi Jinping on the seven-member Standing Committee of the Political Bureau – the country’s highest governing body.

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