Tennis star Peng Shuai now says that she did not accuse China’s vice premier of sexual assault even though she actually did and millions saw her post.
In her first interview since she vanished after making the allegation to a Singaporean news outlet Lianhe Zaobao on Sunday, Peng said: ‘First, I need to stress one point that is extremely important, I have never said or written that anyone has sexually assaulted me, I have to clearly stress this point,’ Peng said in the video posted by the outlet.
She said that her post on Weibo, a Twitter-like social media site, which had been quickly removed, was a ‘private matter’.
Peng said in the video that ‘people have many misunderstandings’ about her post on the Chinese social media site Weibo, which is monitored and regularly censored by China’s communist government. She did not elaborate.
She also said that she’s been living at home in Beijing without supervision. She did not mention Zhang Gaoli, the man she had accused of abusing her.
But the World Tennis Association – which was hailed for suspending women’s tennis games in China in the wake of Peng’s disappearance – said Sunday night that it was convinced the star was still being censored and not being allowed to speak freely.
A spokesman said: ‘We remain steadfast in our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern.’
Peng, 35, had written a post in November on the Chinese social media platform Weibo that the country’s vice premier Zhang Gaoli sexually assaulted her in 2018 with his wife present.
She then disappeared from the public eye for three weeks after she made the post which has since been deleted.
The allegations also prompted the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) to suspend tournaments in China.
In her original post, which was translated into English, Peng detailed the assault that took place with Gaoli and his wife.
‘I have no proof, and it would be impossible for me to keep any evidence,’ the post read.
‘You denied everything afterward. That afternoon I originally did not consent and cried the whole time.’
Peng wrote that she couldn’t provide evidence to underpin her allegation, but was determined to speak out.
‘Like an egg hitting a rock, or a moth to the flame, courting self-destruction, I’ll tell the truth about you,’ she warned Zhang.
The post was deleted by state censors within half an hour and Peng’s Weibo account went dark. The Chinese internet was also swiftly ‘cleansed’ of references to the star; comments about her were disabled and other keywords blocked.
Early this month, the WTA, which has sought a direct line of communication with Peng, said it would suspend tournaments in China immediately due to concerns over the treatment of Peng and the safety of other players.
‘In good conscience, I don’t see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault,’ WTA head Steve Simon said in the statement announcing the WTA’s decision.
‘I am also greatly concerned about the risks that all of our players and staff could face if we were to hold events in China in 2022.’
China has not directly commented on Peng’s initial post, but said after the WTA’s move to suspend tournaments in China that it ‘opposes the politicization of sports.’