Video evidence insufficient to judge Peng Shuai is safe: WTA chairman

by IANS |

New York, Nov 21 (IANS) Women's Tennis Association (WTA) chairman and CEO Steve Simon has said that while it was heartening to see a video released by China state-run media that appear to show Peng Shuai at a restaurant in Beijing, the evidence was "insufficient" to judge whether the tennis player was safe and in good health.

A growing movement that includes international tennis stars is raising concern over the whereabouts of the former Chinese doubles pro after she accused a senior government figure of sexual assault.

Peng, one of China's biggest sporting stars, has not been publicly heard from since a Weibo post on November 2, in which she alleged that the former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli coerced her into sex and that they had an intermittent affair, The Guardian report had said.

The post was taken down by China's censors but still went viral. Subsequent posts and reactions, even keywords such as "tennis", also appeared to be blocked, and numerous references to Peng were scrubbed from China's internet.

WTA has sought a "full, fair and transparent investigation" into sexual assault allegations against former Chinese leader.

In a statement released late on Saturday, WTA chief Steve Simon said, "I am glad to see the videos released by China state-run media that appear to show Peng Shuai at a restaurant in Beijing. While it is positive to see her, it remains unclear if she is free and able to make decisions and take actions on her own, without coercion or external interference.

"This video alone is insufficient. As I have stated from the beginning, I remain concerned about Peng Shuai's health and safety and that the allegation of sexual assault is being censored and swept under the rug. I have been clear about what needs to happen and our relationship with China is at a crossroads," said Simon.

The tennis world has upped the ante in building pressure on China over the disappearance of two-time former Grand Slam doubles champion by launching a social media campaign called "#Where is Peng Shai".

The campaign material that includes some text and a photograph of the Chinese player was posted on their social media handles by top stars like Japan's Naomi Osaka, men's World No, 1 Novak Djokovic, former women's world No. 1 Serena Williams, Simona Halep, Jule Georges, Petra Kvitova and Coco Gauff.

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