Tennis star Peng Shuai denies sexual assault by Chinese official

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Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has denied claiming she was sexually assaulted by a former top Communist Party official – despite a social media post from November in which she leveled the charges against the ex-vice premier.

“First of all, I want to emphasize something that is very important. I have never said that I wrote that anyone sexually assaulted me,” the Grand Slam doubles champ told a reporter for Singapore-based Chinese-language newspaper Lianhe Zaobao.

“I need to emphasize this point very clearly,” she added about the allegation she had made about Zhang Gaoli in post that was quickly removed by Chinese authorities.

The news outlet posted video of Peng it says was taken Sunday in Shanghai in which she said she has been staying at her Beijing home but was free to come and go as she chose.

The reporter did not ask Peng her whether her account with the incendiary accusation on Nov. 2 had been hacked.

Screenshots of Peng’s social media post against Zhang on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform, were shared across the internet, drawing international concern about her safety.

China's Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli.
In a November social media post, Peng Shuai alleged that China’s Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her.
Jewel Samad/AFP via Getty Images

But she now says there was a misunderstanding about the post.

“First of all, it’s my personal privacy. There possibly has been a lot of misunderstanding. Therefore, there should not be such distorted interpretation here,” she said, according to CNN.

Peng expressed her appreciation toward the International Olympic Committee, which said it held at least two calls with her. She said she feels “very grateful” to the organization and was “very happy to have video calls with them.”

She also said she wrote an email to Simon in which she recanted the allegations “completely of my own will.”

Peng Shuai.
In an email, Peng Shuai recanted the allegations “completely of my own will.”
STR/AFP via Getty Images

Lianhe Zaobao said it interviewed the star player at a promotional event for the Beijing Winter Olympic Games, which kick off on Feb. 4.

Peng was seen at a facility where she watched a cross-country ski competition alongside former NBA star Yao Ming and two former Chinese Olympians — sailor Xu Lijia and table tennis player Wang Liqin, CNN reported.

Following the posting, the three-time Olympian and former Wimbledon champion appeared near a tennis court in Beijing, where she signed commemorative balls for children.

The foreign arm of state TV also issued an emailed statement in English attributed to Peng in which she retracted her allegation against Zhang.

Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli (top) walking past China's President Xi Jinping.
Zhang Gaoli, a top lieutenant to President Xi Jinping, has not appeared in public or commented on Peng Shuai’s accusation.
STR/AFP via Getty Images

But Steve Simon, chairman and CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association, questioned the statement’s legitimacy, while others said it only increased their concern about Peng’s safety.

On Monday, a WTA rep told CNN that “it was again good to see Peng Shuai in a public setting and we certainly hope she is doing well.

“As we have consistently stated, these appearances do not alleviate or address the WTA’s significant concerns about her well-being and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion,” the spokesperson told the network.

“We remain steadfast in our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern,” the rep added.

Peng Shuai.
Peng Shuai’s changed statement has increased concern about Peng’s safety.
Damir Sagolj/REUTERS

Earlier this month, Simon announced that all WTA tournaments in China would be suspended because of concerns about Shuai’s safety.

“Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way,” Simon wrote in a statement distributed by the tour on Dec. 1. “While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe, and not subject to censorship, coercion, and intimidation.”

Zhang, 75, was a member of the party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee until 2018 and a top lieutenant to president and party leader Xi Jinping. He has not appeared in public or commented on Peng’s accusation.

With Post wires

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