The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) on Sunday called on the Chinese government to investigate allegations of sexual assault made by Peng Shuai against a former state leader, insisting the former top-ranked doubles player should be “heard, not censored.”
Peng, one of China’s most recognizable tennis stars, accused former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of coercing her into sex at his home three years ago, according to screenshots of a since-deleted social media post dated November 2.
Peng’s post on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, was deleted within 30 minutes of publication, with Chinese censors moving swiftly to wipe out any mention of the accusation online.
Peng has not been seen in public since the accusation and her whereabouts have not been publicly disclosed. Her Weibo account, which has more than half a million followers, is still blocked from searchers on the platform.
In a statement, WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon said Peng’s accusations were of “deep concern” adding the allegations must be investigated “fully, fairly, transparently and without censorship.”
“Peng Shuai, and all women, deserve to be heard, not censored,” Simon said. “Her accusation about the conduct of a former Chinese leader involving a sexual assault must be treated with the utmost seriousness.”
The ATP Tour, a worldwide top-tier tennis tour for men, said in a statement Monday it was “encouraged by the recent assurances received by WTA that (Peng) is safe and accounted for and will continue to monitor the situation closely.” No further details were provided as to the nature of the assurances – or who provided them.
“Separately, we stand in full support of WTA’s call for a full, fair and transparent investigation into allegations of sexual assault against Peng Shuai,” ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said in the statement.
Zhang, 75, served on the ruling Communist Party’s seven person Politiburo Standing Committee – the country’s supreme leadership body – from 2012 to 2017 during Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s first term in power. He retired as vice premier in 2018.
In the post, which reads as an open letter to Zhang, the 35-year-old tennis star alleges a relationship over an intermittent period that spanned at least 10 years.
“Why did you have to come back to me, took me to your home to force me to have sex with you?” she wrote.
Peng said she did not have evidence to prove her allegations, and claimed Zhang was always worried that she would record things.
“I couldn’t describe how disgusted I was, and how many times I asked myself am I still a human? I feel like a walking corpse,” wrote Peng.
CNN cannot independently verify Peng’s post, and has reached out to both her and China’s State Council, which handles press inquires for the central government, for comment.
In the WTA statement, Simon praised Peng for “her remarkable courage and strength” in coming forward.
“Women around the world are finding their voices so injustices can be corrected,” he said.
Former top ranking Czech American tennis player Martina Navratilova said she supported the WTA’s call for an investigation. “A very strong stance by the WTA — and the correct stance,” she wrote on Twitter.
The swift censorship of Peng’s post in China stands in stark contrast to the response to other recent #MeToo cases, including the rape allegations against Canadian-Chinese pop star Kris Wu.
That scandal was allowed to gain huge traction on social media, dominating top trending topics on Weibo for days, while state media amplified the accusation, censuring Wu for his moral decadence.
One of China’s most high-profile #MeToo cases involved an intern who took a prominent host at state broadcaster CCTV to court, accusing him of groping and forcibly kissing her in 2014.
A court said in September that there was insufficient evidence and ruled against the plaintiff.