Sunday, July 3, 2022

Peng Shuai situation explained: A timeline of the tennis star’s sexual assault allegations, disappearance

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai’s safety has come into question after the former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champ accused a former Chinese Communist party leader of sexual assault. The former world No. 1 claimed retired Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli sexually assaulted her three years ago in an online post to the Chinese social-media site Weibo on Nov. 2.

The post was quickly deleted and, since posting it, Peng has not been seen

The tennis world has come to Peng’s defense since her disappearance, with Novak Djokovic calling her disappearance “shocking” and Chris Evert describing the entire situation as “disturbing.” Billie Jean King wrote that she hopes Peng is found safe and Alize Cornet added “Let’s not remain silent” with the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai. 

The most prominent women’s tennis player on the planet, Naomi Osaka, tweeted that she is “in shock of the current situation” and is “sending love and light her way.”

Here’s a chronological look at how the entire situation with Peng has unfolded, beginning on:  

Nov. 2: Peng Shuai makes sexual assault allegations against Zhang

In a 1,600-word post to Weibo, Peng accused the 75-year-old Zhang — a former leader within China’s Communist party — of pressuring her into sex around three years ago. Peng, 35, claimed the assault occurred after Zhang invited her to play tennis with him and his wife at their house, but she admitted she had no evidence. 

“I was so scared that afternoon,” wrote Peng, who claimed a guard stood watch outside the door while the assault occurred. “I never gave consent, crying the entire time.”

Peng said she and Zhang became acquainted with each other while the latter was serving as Tianjin’s party boss from 2007-2012, and Zhang forced her into sex after leaving his post as China’s vice premier in 2017. 

“I know that for someone of your stature, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, you have said that you are not afraid,” Peng wrote. “But even if it is like throwing an egg against rock, or if I am like a moth drawn to the flame, inviting self-destruction, I will tell the truth about you.”

The post was deleted within 30 minutes, and Chinese censors blocked search terms such as Peng’s name.

Nov. 14: WTA chief executive calls for investigation into situation

Steve Simon, WTA’s chief executive, requested a “full, fair and transparent” investigation into Peng’s allegations in a statement. At that point, no one had seen or heard from Peng for 12 days, prompting the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai to spread across social media. 

“Obviously she displayed tremendous courage going public,” Simon told the New York Times. “Now we want to make sure we’re moving forward to a place where a full and transparent investigation is conducted. Anything else, I think, is an affront to not only our players but to all women.”

Simon threatened to pull the WTA’s business from China if the country failed to properly investigate Peng’s allegations. China currently hosts 11 WTA tournaments and the tour finals in Shenzhen. 

While Simon couldn’t directly confirm Peng’s whereabouts or condition, he told the Times that several sources — including the Chinese Tennis Association — told him that she’s “safe and not under any physical threat.” Simon’s “understanding” was that she was in Beijing. 

Nov. 15: China stays silent on Peng Shuai’s allegations, disappearance

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijan said “this is not a diplomatic question” when asked about Peng’s allegations, adding he had “not heard of the issue.” The country, 13 days after Peng’s post, still had yet to acknowledge it. 

Nov. 17:  WTA questions legitimacy of Peng Shuai statement

An email allegedly sent from Peng on Wednesday claimed the WTA did not get her consent or verification before releasing its statement. It was Peng’s first public comments since her allegations, but some, including the WTA, had questions regarding the legitimacy of the statement. 

“The news in that release, including the allegation of sexual assault, is not true,” the email, which was tweeted out by China state-affiliated media China Global Television Network, read. “I’m not missing, nor am I unsafe. I’ve just been resting at home and everything is fine.” 

Simon then openly question whether Peng was coerced into writing it. 

“The statement released today by Chinese state media concerning Peng Shuai only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts,” Simon wrote. “Peng Shuai must be allowed to speak freely, without coercion or intimidation from any source.”

Peng has still yet to be seen since her post on Nov. 2. 

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