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Timeline of the disappearance of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai

Nov 20, 2021, 04:02 IST
Insider
Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai.Fred Lee / Getty Images
  • A Chinese tennis star has vanished from the public after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault.
  • In a statement posted on Weibo on November 2, Peng Shuai alleged the politician forced her into sex during a years-long affair.
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Peng Shuai, a Chinese tennis star, vanished in November after accusing a top Chinese politician of sexually assaulting her — sparking an international outcry over her disappearance.

Shuai is one of the country's biggest sports stars, having been the first Chinese player to be ranked number 1 in the world, which she achieved in 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported.

She's been to the Olympics three times to represent her country and has won two women's doubles titles at Grand Slam tournaments.

Shuai alleged a top Chinese politician coerced her into sex

In a November 2 post on Weibo, Shuai accused former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli of forcing her to have sex with him and claimed that they had an affair.

She said the on-again-off-again affair lasted years and was sometimes consensual, but sometimes not, adding that Gaoil forced her into sex.

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The post remained live for about 20 minutes before being removed permanently from Weibo, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Shuai has not been seen in public since.

The Women's Tennis Organization called for an investigation into Shuai's claims on November 14

On November 14, the Women's Tennis Organization Chairman and CEO Steve Simon said in a statement that they were still unable to contact Shuai after multiple attempts.

"Peng Shuai, and all women, deserve to be heard, not censored," he said.

"We expect this issue to be handled properly, meaning the allegations must be investigated fully, fairly, transparently and without censorship."

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Peng Shuai reacts during a tennis match in 2018.Fred Lee / Getty Images

On the same day, women's tennis legend Billie Jean King reshared Simon's statement on Twitter and said she hopes Shuai is "found safe and that her allegations are fully investigated."

Naomi Osaka shared her concern for Shuai's wellbeing a day later

Naomi Osaka responded to the events on Twitter on November 16 saying she is "in shock" at the current situation.

"Censorship is never ok at any cost, I hope Peng Shuai and her family are safe and ok," she said in a statement.

On November 17, Chinese state published a purported email from Shuai saying 'everything is fine'

Three days after the WTA's comments, Chinese state-owned media company CGTN published a screenshot of an email Shuai purportedly sent to the WTA claiming that everything was fine.

"The news in that release, including the allegations of sexual assault, is not true. I am not missing nor am I unsafe," the email states.

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The email claims that Shuai is resting at home and that "everything is fine."

It also called on the WTA to verify any information with her before sharing news about Shuai.

Tennis stars, including Serena Williams, continued to speak out, using the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai

Multiple tennis professionals have spoken out online about Shuai's disappearance using the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai.

Serena Williams joined the conversation on November 18.

"I am devastated and shocked to hear about the news of my peer, Peng Shuai," Williams wrote on Twitter.

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She added: "This must be investigated and we must not stay silent."

The Association of Tennis Professionals echoed the WTA's call for an investigation on November 19

On November 19, Association of Tennis Professionals chairman Andrea Guadenzi released a statement calling for clarity on the case of Shuai's disappearance.

"Her safety is our most immediate concern and clarity is required on the situation. The need for verifiable direct communication with her is vital," the statement said.

A Chinese reporter posted photos that same day purportedly showing Shuai posing with a cat and stuffed animals

Shen Shiwei, a reporter for Chinese state-affiliated media company BRI, posted photos to Twitter on November 19 that he claimed shows the missing tennis player posing with stuffed animals and a cat.

In addition to the three photos, a WeChat screenshot supposedly shows that Shuai sent those photos to a friend with the message "Happy weekend."

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Shiwei said the friend shared the screenshot with him.

Biden wants 'verifiable proof' of Shuai's wellbeing

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on November 19 that President Joe Biden wants "verifiable" proof from China of Shuai's safety.

"We join in the calls for [Chinese] authorities to provide independent and verifiable proof of her whereabouts and that she is safe," Psaki told reporters at a briefing.

"Any report of sexual assault should be investigated and we support a woman's ability to speak out and seek accountability, whether here or around the world," she added.

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