Star Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai held a video call with the International Olympic Committee on Sunday to claim she was “safe and well,” but many are not buying it, and are accusing the IOC of engaging in a “publicity stunt.”
Peng has been missing for nearly three weeks. The tennis star had not been seen nor heard from since Nov. 2, when she made an allegation online that former vice premier Zhang Gaoli committed sexual assault against her. On China’s version of Twitter, “Webo,” Peng said that the leader coerced her into sex. The statement was removed within a half hour, and all hashtags remotely related to the post were promptly blocked.
Since then, Peng had not been heard from. At the end of last week, state Chinese media published a bizarre email as a Twitter screenshot that they claimed to be from Peng. Those close to the matter believed she did not author the letter, and that it was a ploy by the Chinese government to close the case on Peng and her whereabouts.
Then on Sunday, the IOC held a video call with Peng, and announced afterwards that she was “safe and well”. The IOC issued a statement that its president Thomas Bach spoke directly with Peng for a half hour, and that Peng explained she was at home in Beijing but is requesting privacy at this time. Joining the IOC president in the call was the IOC China representative Li Lingwei and its athletes’ commission chair Emma Terho.
Also on Sunday, photos and videos were published of Peng at a tournament in Beijing. These also did very little to quiet global concerns for her safety.
The IOC has been criticized for the past few weeks for being relatively silent about the matter. Criticism increased following the IOC’s statement Sunday, saying that the IOC merely participated in a publicity stunt. Human rights organizations, as well as the Women’s Tennis Association, have said the video has not at all alleviated or addressed concerns about Peng’s wellbeing or ability to speak without censorship or coercion.
The WTA said the continue to call for a full, fair and transparent investigation into Peng’s initial sexual assault allegations against the Chinese government official.
Human rights organizations and experts have said that while the videos may prove that Peng is alive, they do nothing to show she is able to speak freely, or that she is safe. Some said that the creation of this “proof-of-life” video is itself extremely troubling.
Directors for human rights organizations have said that it was shameful to see the IOC participate in the Chinese government’s charade, and that clearly Peng is not fine and well. Otherwise, she would not still be censored, and she would be allowed to speak freely to the media, the public, or online.