A Chinese official criticized Western media and organizations for “maliciously hyped” the plight of tennis star Peng Shuai in a rare comment from Beijing on the matter.
Peng, 35, wrote a post on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, in which she claimed to have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of former China Deputy Prime Minister Zhang Gaoli. Peng claimed that Zhang, 75, forced her to have sex despite repeated refusals after a game of tennis three years ago.
The post was quickly removed and Peng disappeared from social media and public view for two weeks. Tennis players and officials, led by Steve Simon, CEO of the Womens Tennis Association (WTA), are demanding a full investigation into Pengs’ claims and guarantees of her safety and well-being.
Beijing has maintained it is “unaware” of the situation in Pengs, but ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian made a direct comment on the matter on Tuesday, targeting coverage of the matter after first claiming that the issue was “not a diplomatic matter”. the BBC reported.
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“I believe all of you have seen her recently attending some public events and having a video call [with the president of the International Olympic Committee]spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters. “I think some people need to stop hyped up intentionally and maliciously” [the issue] on, let alone politicize this issue.”
Beijing maintained its position last week, saying it was “unaware” of the matter but appeared to be yielding to pressure from the WTA and UN and White House demands to ensure the safety of Pengs. : Chinese state-backed media published photos of Peng, then released four videos over two days showing Peng in public, first dining at a restaurant and then attending a youth tennis tournament.
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Her limited public appearances culminated Sunday in a 30-minute video call between Peng and IOC members, including President Thomas Bach, Athletes Committee Chair Emma Terho and China Member Li Lingwei.
Peng thanked the committee for its concern, explaining that she is “safe and sound” at her home in Beijing and that her privacy would be respected.
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Terho said the committee was “relieved” to see that Peng was okay and “seemed relaxed,” but the WTA told Fox News the IOC’s appeal did not address or alleviate the organizations’ concerns.
The WTA stressed the need for Peng to speak “without censorship or coercion” and stressed that Beijing has not heeded the organization’s call for “a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship” into Peng’s allegation of sexual assault.
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Simon has threatened to scrap the 12 or so WTA tournaments held in China each year if Beijing doesn’t agree to a formal, independent inquiry into Pengs’ allegations, even though the move would hurt tennis itself.
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