Peng Shuai: Concern for safety of Chinese tennis star who spoke out about sex abuse

Where is Peng Shuai? ITV News Asia Correspondent Debi Edward reports on the mysterious disappearance of the Chinese tennis player

If the email presented by CGTN on their Twitter feed was meant to be reassuring, it has proved anything but.

The English language Chinese State media channel reported that the tennis player Peng Shuai had sent the below email to the head of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) to reassure everyone she is fine and to recant the sex abuse allegations she had made two weeks ago.

Not only was the language of this email suspicious – opening with "Hello everyone" or 大家好 (Dà jiā hâo) which would be used in Chinese for delivering a speech - and it ends with a patriotic wish for Chinese tennis to "get better and better".

But it is the mouse cursor bizarrely evident in the second line of the letter which has led the WTA to say they "have a hard time believing" it came from the player herself.

Peng Shuai hasn’t been seen or heard from since using Chinese social media to make allegations of sexual abuse against the country’s former Vice Premier.

The 35-year-old claimed she was forced to have sex with Zhang Gaoli before entering into a consensual relationship with the government official, now 75-years-old.

Her post – a translated version below - lasted less than thirty minutes online in China and all searches for it, or associated chats or topics have been censored.

A complete English translation of Peng Shuai’s post which soon disappeared.

On Wednesday, Naomi Osaka and Britain’s Liam Brody added their voices to the growing concern over her whereabouts and safety.

Brody questioning "how something like this could happen in the 21st century".

Other tennis stars such as Chris Evert and Novak Djokovic have also raised their alarm over the "disappearance" of the two-time grand slam champion.

Here in Beijing we asked people on the street if they had heard of the case and it was clear that despite the censorship it has reached the eyes and ears of people in the capital.

There was caution among those we spoke to but of those willing to comment most were in support of Peng, or at least finding out the truth. A sign that despite government efforts the #MeToo movement in China still has momentum. 

The 35-year-old won titles at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014. Credit: AP

When we saw the email emerge on CGTN many of us here in China asked ourselves – will there be a video next?

It is often the case with those who have been deemed to threaten the government and its reputation - as Peng will be deemed -  that they will disappear for a matter of weeks, or months only to reappear in a so-called 'false confessions' on State media.

It is likely that wherever Peng Shuai is, and we have reason to believe she is in the United States, she will have been contacted by the Chinese authorities immediately after her post on November 2.

They will have asked her to go through every detail of her allegations and will be working to undo what she has done. It is possible the safety and well-being of her family will be threatened to get her to cooperate. 

That is guesswork for now, based on previous cases. We can only hope that Peng Shuai does emerge soon and is free to tell us in her own words about the initial allegations she detailed and what has happened to her since she dared to share her story.