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The head of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) on Wednesday said he was increasingly concerned about the well-being of Chinese tennis pro Peng Shuai and doubted the legitimacy of an email purportedly written by Peng and released by Chinese state media.
“The statement released today by Chinese state media concerning Peng Shuai only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts,” Steve Simon, WTA chairman and CEO, said in a statement.
“I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her,” said Simon, who said that he had repeatedly and unsuccessfully tried to reach Peng through multiple channels.
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Peng has disappeared from the public eye ever since she alleged in a since-deleted social media post that a former high ranking Chinese official pressured her into having sex.
Earlier on Wednesday, state news broadcaster CGTN tweeted a screenshot of text it said was an email sent to WTA by Peng, in which she said allegations of sexual assault were “untrue” and that she was neither missing nor unsafe. “I’ve just been resting at home and everything is fine,” the email said.
Release of the alleged communication was met with widespread scepticism online, with many highlighting the fact that a cursor was still visible in the text, suggesting the screenshot was taken either before the email was sent or as it was being crafted in a text document.
Simon went on to call for Peng to be allowed to speak “freely, without coercion or intimidation”, and said the allegations of sexual assault should be investigated with “full transparency and without censorship”.
Peng, 35, is one of China’s most famous sports figures, and once ranked first in the world in women’s doubles.
She went public with the sexual assault allegations earlier this month, claiming the former leader pressured her into having sex.
The Weibo post in which she detailed the claims was promptly deleted and faced blanket censorship in China. Government officials have also deflected questions about the high-profile case, with foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian telling reporters on Monday that he had not heard of the matter.
CGTN’s release of the alleged email came following a previous statement by Simon, in which he expressed “deep concern” about Peng’s case and said the behaviour she alleged must be “investigated, not condoned or ignored”.
Peng’s post and subsequent disappearance from the public eye has attracted international attention.
Adding her voice to the growing chorus of concerns, four-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka on Wednesday said she was “in shock” after hearing about Peng’s case, issuing a statement to Twitter using the #WhereIsPengShuai hashtag.
“Censorship is never OK at any cost,” Osaka wrote. “I hope Peng Shuai and her family are safe and OK.”
Earlier this week, Billie Jean King, a pioneer of women’s tennis, expressed hope on Twitter that Peng would be “found safe and that her accusations are fully investigated”.
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This article Women’s Tennis Association head casts doubt on purported Peng Shuai email first appeared on South China Morning Post