Peng Shuai: Chinese tennis star denies making assault claim as concerns persist

bbc– Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has denied making an accusation of sexual assault, in her first media interview since alleging a top Chinese leader had coerced her to have sex.

Ms Peng sparked global concern when she disappeared from public view after posting the allegations online.

She has now said there had been “a lot of misunderstandings” about the post.

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) said it was still concerned that she was being censored by the state.

In the video interview with Lianhe Zaobao, a Singaporean Chinese-language newspaper, Ms Peng explained: “I have never said or written that anyone sexually assaulted me. This point must be emphasised very clearly.”

In her original note, which was posted on the Chinese social media platform Weibo in November, she accused former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of forcing her to have sex with him.

Ms Peng, who appeared to have trouble hearing the reporter in the interview, and seemed surprised at the line of questioning, said she was not under surveillance.

“Why would anyone monitor [me?] [I have] always been very free,” she said.

Lianhe Zaobao is read in mainland China and has in recent years been known for its pro-Beijing coverage.

The interview was carried out on the sidelines of a sporting event in Shanghai, where she appeared with national athletes including basketball player Yao Ming. A video of Ms Peng speaking to the basketball star was posted to Twitter by a state media journalist in which the tennis player is the only person not wearing a mask.

Other images of her in Shanghai were posted to Twitter by sports executive Ding Li.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Responding to her latest comments, the WTA, the governing body of women’s tennis, said it welcomed her appearance “in a public setting” but that it did not “alleviate or address… concerns about her wellbeing and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion”.

“We remain steadfast in our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation… into her allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern,” the WTA said.

What happened to Peng Shuai?

On 2 November Ms Peng posted a 1,600-word note on Weibo, kicking off what would become the most significant case of its kind in China’s slow-moving #MeToo movement.

The note, addressed to Mr Zhang, claimed they had a romantic relationship and that he had also coerced her into having sex. “Why did you come back and seek me out, take me to your home, and force me to have sex with you,” read one line.

The post was swiftly scrubbed from Weibo, but not before it quickly went viral. Her account remains under restrictions with not a single media post displaying more recently than 10 September.

Ms Peng then vanished from public life for weeks, sparking concern worldwide about her safety. A #WhereisPengShuai campaign was launched, fuelled by calls from other tennis stars including Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic.

The WTA has spearheaded calls for an investigation into her initial claims.

Chinese state media subsequently published pictures of her and carried a widely questioned e-mail that she purportedly wrote to the WTA where she said “everything is fine”.

The International Olympics Committee (IOC) also spoke to Ms Peng twice in video calls in which she reportedly said she was safe and well.

But many continue to believe the tennis star is under state duress and is being censored. The WTA has questioned the veracity of the email they received from Ms Peng.

In Sunday’s interview, the tennis star said she had written this email in Chinese herself, and that the English translation of the message published by Chinese state media was accurate.

The WTA has suspended all of its tournaments in China over the issue, putting pressure on the IOC and other sporting groups to take similar actions. They have declined to do so.

The IOC said it would keep in touch with Ms Shuai and planned to meet her in January.

“We will continue our quiet diplomacy approach with the Chinese sports organisations. In these talks all issues are being addressed,” it said in a statement to the BBC.

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