A supposed email attributed to Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, who recently made explosive allegations of sexual assault against a top ruling party leader, released in the public Wednesday has raised doubts as to her whereabouts and safety. Sports body Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has said they are having a “hard time believing” the email is from Shuai, who reportedly hasn’t been heard from ever since she joined China’s #MeToo movement.
In a post dated November 2, Shuai reportedly shared a statement on Twitter-like Chinese social media platform Weibo, accusing her country’s Communist Party leader and ex-Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of forcing her into sex with him. She made references to sharing a relationship with Gaoli over ten years, alleging an extramarital affair and sexual misconduct. Read here.
Within half an hour, Shuai’s post disappeared and her social media accounts appeared to have been shadow-banned, with search results for her facing a block. Shuai’s allegations marked the first time that a #MeToo complaint was targeted at a leader from the upper echelons of China’s restrictive Communist Party.
Peng Shuai Email Raises Concerns: What You Should Know
The email, allegedly from Shuai, was broadcast by state-backed Chinese media and mentioned the allegations she earlier made were “not true,” the BBC reports. On claims of her going missing, the email says she is “resting at home” and well.
WTA chair Steve Simon says Shuai “must be allowed to speak freely, without coercion or intimidation from any source.” He has called for “independent and verifiable proof that she is safe.”
Tennis stars Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic too have joined in the chorus hoping for the Wimbledon title holder’s safety.
In her Weibo post, screenshots of which flooded the Chinese internet two weeks ago, Shuai claimed there was an extramarital relationship between her and Gaoli, now 75. Three years ago, when she visited Gaoli and his wife’s house, the former allegedly raped her.
Gaoli, a close associate of China’s top leader Xi Jinping, served in the Communist Politburo between 2012 and 2017 before retiring in 2018.