VI News Staff 2 years ago
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Naomi Osaka joins chorus of international concern for Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai

Hong Kong (CNN)Tennis superstar Naomi Osaka has become the latest athlete to voice concern over Peng Shuai, who has not been seen in public since accusing a former Chinese state leader of sexual assault.

"Censorship is never OK at any cost, I hope Peng Shuai and her family are safe and OK. I'm in shock of the current situation and I'm sending love and light her way," Osaka said as part of a Twitter statement on Tuesday.

She included the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai.

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.

A growing number of international athletes have expressed concern for Peng.

Tennis legend and 39 time Grand Slam championship-winner Billie Jean King said on Twitter, "Hoping that Peng Shuai is found safe and that her accusations are fully investigated."

And former world No.1 Chris Evert said, "these accusations are very disturbing."

"I've known Peng since she was 14; we should all be concerned; this is serious; where is she? Is she safe? Any information would be appreciated," she said in a post on Twitter.

An alleged letter from Peng

On Sunday, the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) called on the Chinese government to investigate the allegations, insisting the former top-ranked doubles player should be "heard, not censored."

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."

Chinese state media CGTN later released an email alleged to be from Peng that claims she is fine and appears to walk back on her allegations. However, the email has not been verified by CNN, and CGTN did not provide any video or further evidence verifying Peng's whereabouts.

The purported email reads: "Regarding the recent news released on the official website of the WTA, the content has not been confirmed or verified by myself and it was released without my consent. The news in that release, including the allegation of sexual assault, is not true. I'm not missing, nor am I unsafe. I've just been resting at home and everything is fine."

"If the WTA publishes any more news about me, please verify it with me, and release it with my consent. As a professional tennis player, I thank you all for your companionship and consideration. I hope to promote Chinese tennis with you all if I have the chance in the future. I hope Chinese tennis will become better and better," it continues.

CNN has reached out the WTA to confirm whether such an email was received. CGTN didn't explain how it obtained the letter.

The ATP Tour, a worldwide top-tier tennis tour for men, had said in a statement Monday that 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," but did not provide any further details about the veracity of the assurances.

"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.



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