A Chinese state television employee posted photos of tennis star Peng Shuai online in an attempt to stem growing international concern over his disappearance after publicly accusing a senior government official of sexual assault.
The photos appeared on Twitter on Friday, which cannot be seen by most Internet users in China. State TV employee Shen Shiwei wrote that they were on Peng’s account on WeChat messaging service with the comment “Happy Weekend”.
The ruling Communist Party faces growing calls from tennis and professional touring stars, as well as world leaders, to prove that three-time Olympian and former No.1-ranked women’s doubles player Peng is safe and can speak freely.
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Meanwhile, the editor of a newspaper published by the party said that Peng would “appear in public” soon.
The controversy is politically embarrassing as Beijing prepares to host the Winter Olympics in February. On Friday, a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry denied being aware of the outcry over Peng’s disappearance.
Peng, 35, has not been seen in public since the publication of a social media statement this month accusing Zhang Gaoli, a former member of the party’s standing committee, the inner circle of power, of having him. forced to have sex despite repeated refusals.
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Shen works for CGTN, the English-speaking branch of China Central Television which targets foreign audiences. Her Twitter post came after CGTN this week released a statement she said came from Peng and retracted the charges against Zhang.
The editor of Global Times, an English-language newspaper published by the Communist Party, said on Twitter that he had confirmed from unidentified sources that the photos “are indeed the current state of Peng Shuai.”
“For the past few days, she has stayed at home freely and she didn’t want to be disturbed,” wrote editor Hu Xijin. “She will be showing up in public and participating in some activities soon.”
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Photos showed Peng with a gray cat and holding a panda figurine in what appeared to be a private house, with stuffed animals lined up behind her. There was no indication when the photos were taken.
The President and CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association, Steve Simon, questioned on Wednesday the legitimacy of the statement released by the CGTN. Simon said this “only raises my concerns about his safety.”