WTA concerned about censorship as Peng Shuai denies making sexual assault allegation

WTA concerned about censorship as Peng Shuai denies making sexual assault allegation

Peng Shuai

The Women’s Tennis Association says recent public comments from Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai have not alleviated its concerns about censorship and her wellbeing.

Speaking to a Singaporean reporter on camera in Shanghai, Peng denied ever having made an allegation of sexual assault against former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli and said the original post she made on social media site Weibo has been widely “misunderstood”.

In a video posted by Singaporean Chinese-language news outlet Lianhe Zaobao, Peng Shuai can be seen telling a reporter: “I need to stress one point that is extremely important: I have never said or written that anyone has sexually assaulted me, I have to clearly stress this point”.

It marks the first time Peng Shuai has publicly addressed the sexual assault allegations she posted to Weibo. Peng also said a letter to WTA CEO Steve Simon, purportedly written by her and published by Chinese state media, was an accurate English translation of a message she had written herself.

The letter denied the allegation of sexual assault and said, “everything is fine”. At the time, Steve Simon said he did not believe that Peng had written the message herself, and its legitimacy drew widespread scepticism across the globe.

In a statement, the WTA said it was good to see Peng Shuai “in a public setting” but her appearance and comments did not address their concerns.

“As we have consistently stated, these appearances do not alleviate or address the WTA’s significant 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, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern.”

In the interview, Peng said the Weibo post was a “private matter” and that people have had “many misunderstandings” about it. She did not elaborate further. She spoke on the sidelines of a cross-country skiing event in Shanghai.

Earlier this month, the WTA, which has consistently advocated for direct communication with Peng Shuai since her Weibo post was taken down, chose to suspend all tournaments in China in light of their concerns.

Peng disappeared from public life for nearly three months after the Weibo post. It prompted concerns internationally over her wellbeing and safety.  The hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai spread across social media, but the information about the controversy has been heavily censored in China.

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