Where is Peng Shuai? Photos of Chinese tennis player are posted on social network amid doubts about whereabouts | World

Four images and many questions: A smiling Peng Shuai appeared on social media at a time when international pressure is mounting on China to provide information on the Chinese tennis player’s whereabouts.

Peng Shuai, 35, a former doubles world number one and a star in his country, has not spoken out publicly since he accused Zhang Gaoli, a powerful former Chinese Communist Party chief, 40 years his senior, of having forced her to have sex.

In a message posted in early November on the tennis player’s official Weibo account (the equivalent of Twitter in China), she described a forced relationship with Zhang, a married man. The message remained on the air for a short time, until it was censored on the Internet in China.

In the message, the tennis player reports that Zhang Gaoli resumed contact with her when he retired from politics in 2018, evoking a forced sexual encounter. Since these statements, the fate of Peng Shuai raises many questions.

“In the last few days, she was at home in complete freedom and did not want to be disturbed,” said this Saturday (20) Hu Xijin, influential editor-in-chief of Global Times, a markedly nationalist Chinese newspaper.

Peng Shuai “will appear in public very soon,” he wrote in English on Twitter, a blocked social network in China, without commenting on the case on Weibo. “I am convinced that the false speculations (about the fate of Peng Shuai) will eventually be disproved,” he wrote on Friday (19).

Several countries, including the United States and France, said they were “concerned” about the tennis player’s fate. The UN asked, in turn, for proof that she is safe and sound, while the hashtag #WhereisPengShuai (#OndeEstaPengShuai, in Portuguese) spread like a powder keg on social media.

Photos posted on Twitter

About that, four photos of the tennis player were posted on Friday afternoon on the Twitter account @shen_shiwei, identified as a “Chinese state-affiliated vehicle” by the social network.

AFP was unable to independently establish when these photos were taken.

In one of the images, the young woman appears smiling with a cat in her arms, in what appears to be her house. Another is a Peng Shuai “selfie” with a Kung Fu Panda character doll.

The Twitter account indicates, in English, that the photos were sent privately by the tennis player on a social network to wish her contacts a “good weekend”. Photos are accompanied by the mention “today” in Mandarin to refer to the date of publication.

Twitter is a blocked network in China and can only be accessed by people with a VPN-type connection. In recent years, many Chinese diplomats and official media have created accounts in it to defend the Chinese point of view.

UN asks the Chinese government to present proof of missing tennis player's life

UN asks the Chinese government to present proof of missing tennis player’s life

Two weeks after Peng Shuai’s remarks, Chinese public television CGTN on Wednesday showed a screenshot of an e-mail allegedly written by her.

The channel, which broadcasts in English and is aimed at foreign audiences, stated that the tennis player herself referred him to the direction of the WTA, the body responsible for the professional women’s tennis circuit.

On CNN, however, its chairman, Steve Simon, questioned the authenticity of the e-mail, in which Shuai classed his accusations against Zhang Gaoli as “false.”

“I absolutely don’t believe that’s the truth,” said Simon, calling the email “an act.”

“Whether she was forced to write this, if anyone wrote to her, we don’t know […] but, until we talk to her, we won’t be calm,” added the WTA official.

The Peng Shuai case is censored in China, and the tennis player’s surroundings do not comment on it. Former Deputy Prime Minister Zhang Gaoli, who was from 2013 to 2018 one of China’s seven most powerful political leaders, has yet to publicly react to the allegations.

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