Beijing: One of the top doubles players in the world, Peng Shuai simply seems to have disappeared since accusing a powerful Chinese politician sexual assault. In fact the allegation made by Peng Shuai is the first time that the #MeToo movement has struck the top echelons of the ruling Communist party. China is known to come down hard on dissenters and according to many Peng’s life could be in danger for alleging that former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli had assaulted her.
The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) called Sunday for Peng’s claims to be ‘investigated fully, fairly, transparently and without censorship’. Current and former players have taken to social media to express fear for the safety of the former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion. At some point of her career Peng was No.1 in doubles.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian was asked for his comments regarding Peng’s disappearance. “I have not heard of the issue you raised,” Zhao said. “This is not a diplomatic question,” he added and made no further comment on the fate of Peng.
Details of Peng’s reported accusations, made earlier this month that former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her, remain scrubbed from China’s Internet. Searches for their names on key portals come back empty.
Searches for Peng’s account on China’s Twitter-like ‘Weibo’ platform also returned no results. However, the account was still accessible via a direct web link. China’s national tennis association did not respond to requests for comment.
In its statement, WTA’s chairman Steve Simon said the events concerning Peng were ‘of deep concern’. He called for her claims to be ‘treated with the utmost seriousness’.
“Our absolute and unwavering priority is the health and safety of our players. We are speaking out so justice can be done,” the statement said.
Chris Evert, the 18-time Grand Slam winner, became the highest profile current or former player in tennis to join social media expressions of concern that have given rise to the Twitter hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai. Evert called the situation ‘very disturbing’.
“I’ve known Peng since she was 14; we should all be concerned; this is serious; where is she? Is she safe? Any information would be appreciated,” Evert tweeted.
Earlier this month, Peng, 35, reportedly wrote on social media that Zhang – who is in his seventies –‘forced’ her into sex. She also said they had an on-off relationship lasting several years.
China’s online censors moved rapidly to erase evidence of the reported allegations and Peng has not been heard from since.