The European Union urged China on Tuesday to provide proof of tennis star Peng Shuai’s well-being. It was the latest expression of concern from the international community about the fate of the Chinese athlete after she accused a former top Chinese official of sexual assault.
“The EU joins growing international demands, including by sport professionals, for assurances that she is free and not under threat,” the EU’s foreign service said in a statement.
“The EU requests the Chinese government to provide verifiable proof of Peng Shuai’s safety, well-being and whereabouts,” the statement said, while also urging Chinese authorities to carry out a “full, fair and transparent investigation into her allegations of sexual assault.”
Peng, a three-time Olympian and former doubles world number one, disappeared on November 2 after posting a message on social media alleging that China’s former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her. The post was removed within minutes by internet censors.
After a global outcry, she re-appeared two weeks later in Beijing, when she held a video call with International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach.
But the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has said this did not address or alleviate concerns about her health and safety, something the EU also echoed.
“Her recent public reappearance does not ease concerns about her safety and freedom,” an EU spokesperson said.
Peng’s case censored in China
The tennis star adds to a growing number of Chinese businesspeople, activists and ordinary people who have disappeared from public view in recent years after criticizing party figures, or in crackdowns on corruption or pro-democracy and labor rights campaigns.
All content regarding Peng’s social media post and disappearance from public view has been blocked from direct discussion on China’s internet.
The Chinese government has not commented on Peng’s allegations. But Beijing blasted the international community for “politicizing” the case, saying it was being “maliciously hyped up.”
Zhang has not spoken publicly about the incident, and he has not been a part of the Chinese government since he stepped down from the powerful seven-member Politburo Standing Committee about three years ago.
Peng Shuai, Chinese tennis player
On November 2, Peng Shuai shared a post on Chinese social media platform Weibo, alleging that a former vice premier, Zhang Gaoli, had sexually assaulted her. After the post, she was not seen for two weeks, prompting concern about her safety. She re-appeared over the weekend in Beijing and held a video call with IOC President Thomas Bach on Sunday — but there are still concerns about her wellbeing.
Ren Zhiqiang, real estate tycoon
In February 2020, Ren Zhiqiang, a former real estate tycoon and an outspoken critic of Chinese President Xi Jinping, wrote an essay criticizing the Chinese authorities for their failure to respond to the COVID pandemic and called Xi a “clown.” After its publication, he disappeared from public view and was sentenced later that year to 18 years in prison for corruption.
Chen Qiushi, lawyer and citizen journalist
At the start of 2020, Chen Qiushi went to Wuhan when it was the epicenter of what would later become the COVID-19 pandemic, and made videos that showed what was happening in the city. In February 2020, he was taken away by authorities and resurfaced over 600 days later. “Over the past year and eight months, I have experienced a lot of things. Some of it can be talked about, some of it can’t.”
Lu Guang, photographer
At the end of 2018, Lu Guang, a long-time US-based Chinese photographer, was taken away by state security officials while traveling in China’s western Xinjiang province, the center of Beijing’s crackdown on Uyghur Muslims. Lu’s arrest drew international attention and widespread condemnation. In September 2019, Lu’s wife tweeted that he had been released a few months earlier and was home safe.
Meng Hongwei, former Interpol President
In October 2018, the first-ever Chinese president of Interpol, Meng Hongwei, vanished mid-way through his four-year term while on a trip to China. It subsequently emerged that he had been detained, accused of bribery and other alleged crimes. Interpol then announced that Meng had stepped down from his post at the helm of the organization. He was later sentenced to over 13 years in prison.
Ai Weiwei, artist and activist
Ai Weiwei is one of China’s highest-profile artists and political activists. He even helped design the 2008 Beijing Olympics Bird’s Nest stadium before falling out with the Chinese authorities. In 2011, Ai was arrested at the Beijing airport and spent 81 days in detention without charge. After being allowed to leave China in 2015, he has lived in Germany, the UK, and, since 2021, in Portugal.
Jack Ma, billionaire tech mogul
Jack Ma, founder of tech giant Alibaba, stopped appearing in public after criticizing Chinese regulators in an October 2020 speech. Although there were rumors that Ma had been detained, his friends reportedly said it wasn’t true and that he decided to keep quiet following criticism over his comments. Ma reappeared two months later video — but made no mention of his retreat from public life.
Zhao Wei, famous actress and billionaire
Zhao Wei has not been seen in public since August 2021 — and Beijing has made sure that she’s all but erased from history, with her films and TV shows removed from online streaming platforms without explanation. Her name has also been removed from credits of movies and TV programs. Even though Wei was reportedly spotted in eastern China in September, her exact whereabouts remain unclear.
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