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Tennis official doubts email claiming Chinese player Peng Shuai is OK was sent by her

Shuai Peng of China serves a shot during a tennis match on September 23, 2019 in Wuhan, China.
Shuai Peng of China serves a shot during a tennis match on September 23, 2019 in Wuhan, China.

Updated November 18, 2021 at 1:27 PM ET

The head of the Women's Tennis Association is questioning the authenticity of an email he received purporting to be from Chinese star player Peng Shuai, who hasn't been heard from since she made sexual assault allegations against a top Communist Party official two weeks ago.

In a copy of the email, published by China's state-run CGTN, Peng purportedly tells WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon that the allegations attributed to her are "not true" and that "I'm not missing, nor am I unsafe. I've just been resting at home and everything is fine."

Simon said in a statement Wednesday that the email he received "only raises my concerns" about Peng's "safety and whereabouts."

"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.

Peng is a former No. 1-ranked player in women's doubles who won titles at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014. In a lengthy social media post earlier this month on China's Weibo platform, she said former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli "forced" her into sexual relations. Zhang, 75, served in the post from 2013 and 2018.

"I was so scared that afternoon," Peng wrote of the 2018 encounter. "I never gave consent, crying the entire time."

Then Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Novo-Ogaryovo State Residence, outside Moscow, in 2017.
Mikhail Svetlov / Getty Images
The Chinese government has been moving quickly to quash sex assault allegations against former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli.

She said she later willingly entered into an affair with Zhang, who is married.

The post was quickly taken down and Peng's social media account disappeared hours after it appeared. However, screenshots of the post continued to circulate widely online in China even as censors scrambled to delete references to it.

Amnesty International on Thursday weighed in, citing what it said was China's efforts to "systematically" silence the country's #MeToo movement and its "zero-tolerance approach to criticism."

"Peng's recent so-called statement that 'everything is fine' should not be taken at face value as China's state media has a track record of forcing statements out of individuals under duress, or else simply fabricating them," Amnesty's China researcher Doriane Lau said in a statement. "These concerns will not go away unless Peng's safety and whereabouts are confirmed."

Earlier this month, Amnesty highlighted the detention of Chinese journalist Sophia Huang Xueqin on allegations of "inciting subversion of state power." Amnesty International's China campaigner Gwen Lee said the journalist had been "targeted by the authorities after helping women in China report cases of sexual harassment and becoming a key figure in the country's #MeToo movement."

Japanese tennis pro Naomi Osaka has expressed her concern in a tweet, saying she hoped that Peng and her family "are safe and ok."

"I'm in shock of the current situation and I'm sending love and light her way. #whereispengshuai," she wrote.

World No. 1 tennis player Novak Djokovic showed his concern too, as has French player Nicolas Mahut.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.