Peng Shuai mystery deepens as Chinese State TV posts pictures of missing tennis star

Concerns mount over Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai

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Chinese state-affiliated media has posted photos of ‘missing’ tennis player Peng Shuai, alleging that the top doubles player shared them on Friday (November 19) on WeChat. It comes just days after China’s state media also released an email they claimed the Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion had sent to the WTA boss, with the women’s tour’s CEO and Chairman saying he did not believe the statement was written by Peng.

Peng Shuai has not been directly seen or heard from since November 2, when she accused former Chinese vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault in a lengthy post on Weibo, also detailing an on-off consensual relationship with the now-retired politician, dating back to 2011.

Her post was deleted within half an hour, though her accusations have rocked China and the rest of the world, as her account is believed to be the first made against a high-ranking member of China’s Communist Party, as Zhang served on the party’s Politburo Standing Committee – China’s top ruling council – between 2012 and 2017.

Zhang has not responded to the claims, while a spokesperson for Beijing’s foreign ministry denied all knowledge of the allegations when asked about the subject, saying: “I have not heard of it and it is not a diplomatic question.”

Concerns have been growing for the 35-year-old as she has not been seen in public view since making the allegations, and the WTA CEO and Chairman confirmed he has been unable to directly contact Peng or her friends and family.

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Now, the situation has taken another turn as Chinese state media posted three photos to Twitter, claiming Peng had sent them to one of her friends on WeChat on Friday (November 19)

Journalist Shen Shiwei of CGTN, the international arm of government-controlled state broadcaster CCTV, shared photos of the former doubles world No 1 smiling for the camera surrounded by toys, alongside a grey cat.

Sheng, whose account is marked by Twitter as China state-affiliated media, tweeted: “Peng Shuai’s WeChat moments just posted three latest photos and said “Happy weekend”. Her friend shared the three photos and the screenshot of Peng’s WeChat moments.”

According to Twitter, state-affiliated media accounts are defined as: “Outlets where the state exercises control over editorial content through financial resources, direct or indirect political pressures, and/or control over production and distribution. Accounts belonging to state-affiliated media entities, their editors-in-chief, and/or their senior staff may be labelled.”

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Many have questioned the validity of the post, as it was not shared by Peng herself and came through state-affiliated media.

The BBC’s China Media Analyst, Kerry Allen, also questioned Sheng’s tweet, pointing out that the alleged account belonging to Peng was called ‘Peng Shuai 2’ and had the platform’s default image has her profile photo.

She tweeted: ““Peng Shuai 2” apparently has no banner or avatar on her WeChat account. I don’t know how people are giving this legitimacy. What identifying features are there that these pictures are recent? She has still not commented on Weibo.”

It comes after the CGTN network tweeted a statement allegedly written by Peng Shuai in an email to the WTA CEO and Chairman Steve Simon on Wednesday (November 17), claiming that she was fine, had been at home resting, and that the sexual assault allegations were not true.

The boss of the women’s tennis tour released a statement shortly after, and did not believe the former singles world No 14 had written the email, writing: “The statement released today by Chinese state media concerning Peng Shuai only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts.

“I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her.”

Simon and the WTA are yet to respond to the latest photos posted by CGTN journalist Sheng.

Also on Friday, the United Nations called for full proof of the Chinese tennis player’s whereabouts, as well as a probe into her allegations against Gaoli.

“What we would say is that it would be important to have proof of her whereabouts and well being, and we would urge that there be an investigation with full transparency into her allegations of sexual assault,” Liz Throssell, the spokesperson of the UN Human Rights office, told reporters in Geneva on Friday.
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