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Breezy Explainer: Emails from Peng Shuai, a Tennis star cast doubt. Here’s the full story

Emails from Peng Shuai, a Tennis star cast doubt

The mystery of Peng Shuai, a Chinese tennis star’s whereabouts are rising after a state media published a supposed email. Here’s what we know so far.

Who is Peng Shuai?

Who is Peng Shuai?

The 35-year-old is one of the biggest sports stars. Ever since winning the 2013 Wimbledon and gaining her first Grand Slam title alongside Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-Wei. She has also won the 23 WTA doubles titles and several other laurels. Born to an ordinary family, Peng started playing tennis at the age of eight due to her uncle. She also underwent an operation for her heart defect at the age of 12. Admitting it was because she “loved tennis too much” to have to quit due to her health. She currently ranks 191th in the global rankings.

The air of mystery and suspicion

On November 2, Peng alleged on Weibo, a Twitter-like site, about being forced into sex by Zhang Gaoli. Gaoli is a former vice-premier of China. Since then, the former world doubles No 1, did not appear in public. The Chinese government has also banned popular hashtags around the issue, including #tennis. However, the state media has now published an email. Supposedly sent by Peng, stating that she is “resting at home and everything is fine”. While the email is still unverified, many people on social media are casting their doubt on its authenticity. Several Twitter users are pointing out a typing cursor visible on the screenshot.

“Regarding the recent news released on the official website of the WTA, the content has not been confirmed or verified by myself. And it was released without my consent,” stated the letter. “The news in that release, including the allegation of sexual assault, is not true. I’m not missing, nor I am unsafe. I’ve just been resting at home and everything is fine. Thank you again for caring about me,” it assured. Additionally, the language use is facetious.

Skepticism rises over Shuai claim- ‘everything is fine

Skepticism rises over Shuai claim- 'everything is fine'

Ever since she alleged that she was sexually assaulted by Zhang Gaoli, she has not been seen in public. Steve Simon, the Chairman, and Chief executive of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) expressed his concern for Peng’s wellbeing. Earlier this month, the WTA issued a statement, calling the Chinese government to investigate the allegations of sexual harassment. 

“The statement released today by Chinese state media concerning Peng Shuai only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts,” stated Simon. “I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai wrote the email we received. Or believes the attribution,” he added. Simon also said that he received assurances from the government that she was safe. However, the WTA was not able to contact her and confirm the assurances. “Peng Shuai displayed incredible courage in describing an allegation of sexual assault against a former top official in the Chinese government. The WTA and the rest of the world need independent and verifiable proof of her safety,” he stressed.

“The Chinese government has a long history of arbitrarily detaining people involved in controversial cases, controlling their ability to speak freely, and making them give forced statements. Until Peng Shuai is free, the burden of proof is on the Chinese government to prove she is not detained,” said William Nee. Nee is the research and advocacy partner for Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD). The CHRD believes that the government’s statement “should not be taken at face value”.