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Concern mounts over tennis star's whereabouts

November 20, 2021

The US is demanding proof that Peng Shuai is safe. The Chinese tennis player went missing after making sexual assault allegations against a top Communist Party official.

Peng Shuai stretches to hit a yellow tennis ball with a blue racket. She is wearing an orange adidas cap
Chinese professional tennis player Peng Shuai has not been seen since she made sexual assault allegations on social mediaImage: HPIC/picture alliance

International concern over the disappearance of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai grew on Friday, while China continued to deny knowledge of the issue.

Former doubles world number one Peng has not been seen or heard from publicly since accusing former top official Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her, in a social media post on November 2.

The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) cast doubt on an email that Chinese state media says was penned by Peng, walking back the allegations.

The editor of the state-affiliated newspaper the Global Times Hu Xijin shared a video purportedly showing Peng in a restaurant on Saturday. The authenticity of the video could not be confirmed.

US, UK want proof that Peng Shuai is safe

Chinese authorities should "provide independent and verifiable proof of her whereabouts and that she is safe," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday.

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman repeated the sentiment in a tweet, adding that the US is "deeply concerned by reports that tennis player Peng Shuai appears to be missing."

"Women everywhere deserve to have reports of sexual assault taken seriously and investigated," Sherman added.

Liz Throssell, a spokeswoman for the UN human rights office in Geneva, said Friday it was calling for "an investigation with full transparency into her allegation of sexual assault."

She said this was vital to ensure accountability and justice.

Britain on Saturday urged China to provide "verifiable evidence" about the "safety and whereabouts" of Peng.

"We are extremely concerned at the apparent disappearance of Peng Shuai, and are following the case closely," the foreign office said in a statement, adding Beijing "should urgently provide verifiable evidence of her safety and whereabouts."

Meanwhile, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said that the matter was "not a diplomatic question and I'm not aware of the situation."

The ministry has consistently denied knowledge of the issue since Peng made her accusation.

How has the tennis community responded?

Top-ranked men's player Novak Djokovic said he would support a decision to cancel tournaments in China unless the issue is resolved.

"This is horrifying. I mean, a person is missing,'' Djokovic said at the ATP Finals in Turin, Italy. "The whole tennis community needs to back her up and her family, make sure that she's safe and sound because if you would have tournaments on Chinese soil without resolving this situation, it would be a little bit strange."

Djokovic is the latest of the world's top tennis players to speak out about Peng's disappearance. Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, as well as the German Olympic Committee, have tweeted the #WhereIsPengShuai hashtag.

The WTA Chief Executive Steve Simon told CNN and other US media outlets on Thursday the tour would consider pulling tournaments worth tens of millions of dollars out of China.

ab, kmm/wd (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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