Who is Peng Shuai? The tennis star missing after accusing a Chinese politician of sexual assault

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Photo credit: Fred Lee - Getty Images
Photo credit: Fred Lee - Getty Images

Concern is growing for the whereabouts of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, who has been missing since accusing a top government official of sexual assault. The two-time Grand Slam doubles champion made the allegations earlier this month, claiming that the country's former Vice Premier VP Zhang Gaoli had "forced" her into sexual relations.

Shuai made the accusation on a Chinese social media platform on 2 November, although it was removed only minutes after along with a number of other posts on her account. She has not been seen or heard from publicly since, with the Women's Tennis Association (WTA), along with fellow athletes including Serena Williams, raising the alarm about her safety.

In a statement shared earlier this week, WTA chairman Steve Simon said: "The WTA and the rest of the world need independent and verifiable proof that she is safe." He then emphasised that in addition to this, the allegations made by Shuai must be investigated "with full transparency and without censorship."

"The voices of women need to be heard and respected, not censored nor dictated to," he added.

Over on Twitter, former women's world number one and 23-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams said she was "devastated and shocked" by the news of Shuai's disappearance. "I hope she is safe and found as soon as possible. This must be investigated and we must not stay silent," she shared in a tweet.

Following the 35-year-old's disappearance, Chinese state media released an email they attributed to the tennis star. In the email, Shuai purportedly said the allegations she made are "not true" adding that she's not missing and in fact has "just been resting at home."

But the WTA has cast doubts on the legitimacy of the email, with the chairman emphasising that it "only raises" his concerns about Shuai's safety. "I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her," he said in a statement.

His message was echoed by human rights group Amnesty International, who stressed that the email "should not be taken at face value." Speaking on behalf of the organisation, Amnesty International's China researcher, Doriane Lau said: "China's state media has a track record of forcing statements out of individuals under duress, or else simply fabricating them. These concerns will not go away unless Peng's safety and whereabouts are confirmed."

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

In response to the growing worldwide attention on the tennis star's whereabouts, a spokesperson for China's foreign ministry did not give further details when asked by reporters.

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