Photos of ‘missing’ tennis star Peng Shuai are shared by the Chinese state broadcaster on Twitter
Experts question the authenticity of recently released photos of missing tennis star Peng Shuai smiling as she poses for the camera behind a sea of children’s toys.
Three photos posted online by a reporter working with CGTN, the international wing of China’s state broadcaster, reportedly show the 35-year-old tennis star posing with a gray cat while surrounded by a bed of soft toys.
Shen Shiwei, the man who shared the photos on Twitter Friday, said the images had been posted to Shuai’s WeChat messenger, but experts continued to express doubts about the photos’ accuracy.
Fears continue to mount for Shuai, once ranked as the world’s best female doubles player, who has not been seen since he accused the country’s former deputy prime minister of rape on Nov. 2.
Friday marked the second time in as many days that China’s state broadcaster attempted to allay concerns over the missing tennis star, after sharing an email claiming it was written Shuai saying she was “resting at home.” ‘.
Andy Murray and Serena Williams have become the latest high-profile names to join the campaign to find missing tennis star Peng Shuai in the wake of her sexual assault allegations.
Fears continue to mount for Peng Shuai, once ranked as the best female doubles player in the world, who has not been seen since he accused the country’s former deputy prime minister of rape on Nov. 2.
Three photos posted online by a reporter working with CGTN, the international wing of China’s state broadcaster, allegedly show the 35-year-old tennis star posing with a gray cat while surrounded by a bed of soft toys.
Shen Shiwei, the man who shared the photos on Twitter Friday, said the photos had been posted to Shuai’s WeChat messenger, but experts continued to express doubts about the photos’ accuracy.
When news broke that the photos were being shared online, internet sleuths also raised questions about a framed photo of Winnie the Pooh – a character banned in China – appearing in the background.
The former double world No. 1 has not been seen or heard in public since she said on Chinese social media in early November that former Deputy Prime Minister Zhang Gaoli forced her into sex three years ago and that they had been in an on-again-off-again relationship.
The post was quickly removed from her verified account on Weibo, a leading Chinese social media platform, but screenshots of the explosive accusation quickly spread despite the topic is blocked for discussion on China’s heavily censored internet.
Peng Shuai, 35, a Chinese tennis star, has not been seen since Nov. 2 when she accused a senior communist official of sexual assault on social media.
Serena Williams also took to her own social media and received over 24,000 retweets
Naomi Osaka used the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai when she expressed her ‘shock’ on Twitter
Andy Murray has now joined the search for former world doubles number 1 Peng
23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, 40, publicly called on authorities to launch an investigation into Shuai’s disappearance, urging those involved “not to remain silent.”
Andy Murray then weighed in on the uncomfortable situation, noting: “The whereabouts of female tennis player Peng Shuai is currently unknown after she made allegations of sexual abuse against a Chinese government official.
‘This speech gives us a reminder and some hope that things may change in the future #WhereIsPengShuai’
Meanwhile, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) said it would be willing to withdraw its tournaments from China if they were not satisfied with the response to its allegation of sexual assault.
It comes after Chinese state media published an English-language email that they claimed was written by Peng, which read, “I am not missing, nor am I unsafe. I’m just resting at home and everything is fine.’
Steve Simon, the head of the Women’s Tennis Association, said he is “hard to believe” that Peng wrote the email herself and that it “only raises my concerns about her safety and whereabouts.”
Simon said no one from the WTA has been in direct contact with Peng since she accused 75-year-old Communist Party official Zhang Gaoli of forcing her to have sex on Chinese social media two weeks ago.
Fears for her safety grew on Wednesday when Chinese state media released what they believe was an email written by her that read: ‘I just rested at home and everything is fine’
Social media users were quick to point out quirks with the “email”, including that it was addressed to “everyone” despite purporting to be a private message and a typing cursor in the middle of the message appears to be blinking – suggesting that it is open in a word processor
Peng alleged that senior politician Zhang Gaoli, 40 years her senior, sexually assaulted her in a bedroom at his home while his wife was present.
On Wednesday, Simon questioned an email, also released by a Chinese state media outlet on Twitter, that claimed to be from Peng and denied the sexual assault allegations.
“I find it hard to believe that Peng Shuai wrote the email we received or believe what is attributed to her,” he said.
By Friday, the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai had garnered more than 32 million mentions on Facebook’s Instagram, which is also blocked in China, as well as Twitter, according to hashtag analysis website BrandMentions.
Earlier, China’s foreign ministry said it was unaware of the controversy surrounding Peng, who disappeared after accusing a top former official of sexually assaulting her.
Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters that the case was “not a diplomatic matter and I am not aware of the situation.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian (pictured, Nov. 16) told reporters that the controversy surrounding the disappearance of tennis professional Peng Shuai was “not a diplomatic matter and I am not aware of the situation.”
The ministry has consistently denied knowledge of the matter since it became known as a major global story earlier this week.
Despite this, international pressure is mounting to uncover the truth about Peng’s whereabouts, with 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, 40, pushing for an investigation.
Peng, 35, is a former top women’s doubles player, winning titles at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014.
She also took part in three Olympic Games, making her disappearance all the more prominent now that Beijing will host the Winter Games from February 4.
Liz Throssell, a spokeswoman for the UN human rights agency in Geneva, said Friday it called for “a full transparency investigation into her sexual assault allegation.”
“And I think we would say that should be the case with all allegations of sexual assault. It’s really important to be accountable, to ensure justice for the victims,” she said.