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Concern Mounts For Tennis Star Who Hasn't Been Seen In Public Since Accusing Politician Of Sexual Assault
"I hope Peng Shuai and her family are safe and ok,” tennis star Naomi Osaka said of her peer, Peng Shuai, whose status is unclear after accusing former Chinese vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault.
A Chinese tennis player who accused a former high-ranking politician of sexual assault and coercion earlier this month has disappeared from public view after publicizing her accusations online.
Peng Shuai, 35, hasn’t been seen in public since accusing former Chinese vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault in a social media post earlier this month, the Guardian reported.
Shuai, who alleged Gaoli coerced her into sex several years ago, published the accusations on her Weibo profile — a social media site modeled after Twitter — on Nov. 2.
"Why did you have to come back to me, took me to your home to force me to have sex with you? Shuai reportedly wrote, according to screenshots of the post obtained by CNN. “Yes, I did not have any evidence, and it was simply impossible to have evidence.”
In her social media post, the 35-year-old tennis player disclosed she was in a relationship with the ex-vice premier that lasted approximately 10 years.
"I couldn't describe how disgusted I was, and how many times I asked myself am I still a human?” Shuai added. “I feel like a walking corpse. Every day I was acting, which person is the real me?"
The 1,600-word post was deleted roughly 30 minutes after going live, according to Reuters. Gaoli is 75 today, CNN reported.
The Women’s Tennis Federation called for a “full, fair and transparent investigation” into Shuai’s allegations against Gaoli.
"Peng Shuai, and all women, deserve to be heard, not censored. Her accusation about the conduct of a former Chinese leader involving a sexual assault must be treated with the utmost seriousness," Steve Simon, Chairman & CEO for the World Tennis Association said in a statement on Nov. 14.
Women’s Tennis Association officials reportedly haven’t heard from Shuai and were unable to confirm her immediate whereabouts, however, Simon suggested she was safe.
"We've received confirmation from several sources, including the Chinese Tennis Association, that she is safe and not under any physical threat,” Simon also told the New York Times over the weekend. "My understanding is that she is in Beijing in China, but I can't confirm that because I haven't spoken directly with her.”
On Wednesday afternoon, a Chinese government-affiliated television station operating in Europe posted a Tweet it alleged was the text of an email sent to Simon by Shuai, though the picture text had a visible cursor in the middle of the words.
"Hello everyone this is Peng Shuai," it read.
"Regarding the recent news released on the official website of the WTA, the content has not been confirmed or verified by myself and it was released without my consent. The news in that release, including the allegation of sexual assault, is not true. I'm not missing, nor am I unsafe. I've just been resting at home and everything is fined," it continued.
"If the WTA publishes any more news about me, please verify it with me, and release it with my consent. As a professional tennis player, I thank you all for your companionship and consideration. I hope to promote Chinese tennis with you all if I have a change in the future," it continued.
Most Western commentators did not find their concerns assuaged — and neither did Simon.
In a statement released only a couple hours later, he continued to express concern but confirmed he'd received such an email.
"The statement released today by Chinese state media concerning Peng Shuai only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts," he said.
"I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her," he continued.
"The WTA and the rest of the world need independent and verifiable proof that she is safe," he added. "I have repeatedly tried to reach her via numerous forms of communication, to no avail."
The case, which has generated intense interest in China, has also sparked international concern over the country’s censorship in the digital age, where censors have deleted even the slightest reference to the case online, according to the Washington Post.
Representatives for the Women’s Tennis Association weren’t immediately available for further comment on Wednesday when contacted by Oxygen.com.
Tennis star Naomi Osaka also voiced her shock and concern for Shuai in a statement posted to Twitter on Nov. 16, alongside the hashtag “WhereIsPengShuai.”
"Not sure if you've been following the news but I was recently informed of a fellow tennis player that has gone missing shortly after revealing that she has been sexually abused," Osaka, 24, wrote on Tuesday. "Censorship is never ok at any cost, I hope Peng Shuai and her family are safe and ok. I'm in shock of the current situation and I'm sending love and light her way."