Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai will appear in public soon: state media editor

Amid growing international pressure and questions on the whereabouts of tennis star Peng Shuai, a prominent Chinese state media journalist said on Saturday that she has been staying at her own home “freely” and will make a public appearance “soon”.

Former doubles world No 1 Peng has not been seen or heard in public since she said on Chinese social media on November 2 that former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli, who was a member of China’s top political group headed by President Xi Jinping, coerced her into sex.

The UN, the US and several top tennis stars like Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka, tennis’ global governing bodies, human rights groups, retired players and many athletes’ lobbies have raised questions about Peng. The intense international scrutiny comes ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics, scheduled to start on February 4, 2022. The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has threatened to pull tournaments out of China over Peng’s disappearance.

Editor of nationalistic tabloid, Global Times, Hu Xijin tweeted on Saturday:

“In the past few days, she stayed in her own home freely and she didn’t want to be disturbed. She will show up in public and participate in some activities soon”.

Hu said he had confirmed through his sources that photos shared on Twitter by a journalist working for the Chinese state media, purportedly showing Peng at home, depicted her “current state”.

Chinese state media’s claims came as the UN called for an investigation. “What we would say is that it would be important to have proof of her whereabouts and wellbeing, and we would urge that there be an investigation with full transparency into her allegations of sexual assault,” Liz Throssell, spokesperson of the UN Human Rights office, told reporters in Geneva on Friday.

“According to available information, the former world doubles No. 1 hasn’t been heard from publicly since she alleged on social media that she was sexually assaulted. We would stress that it is important to know where she is and know her state, and know about her wellbeing,” Throssell said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday that President Joe Biden’s administration wanted China to “provide independent, verifiable proof” of Peng’s whereabouts, and expressed “deep concern” about her.

This is the second time that Chinese official media has come to the aid of its government, which has been silent on the case. China’s official broadcaster CCTV’s English channel, CGTN, early on Thursday tweeted an email purportedly from Peng saying she is well and safe and denying the allegations against Gaoli.

“Hello everyone, this is Peng Shuai. 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 email says.

Reacting to Peng’s letter published by CGTN, Steve Simon, WTA chairman, had said in a statement two days ago that he had a “hard time believing” Peng had written the mail.

The Chinese foreign ministry has declined to comment. Foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters that the matter was “not a diplomatic question and I’m not aware of the situation.”

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