Hong Kong, November 20 (ANI): The United Nations on Saturday called for an investigation into Peng Shuai's disappearance while the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) is willing to lose hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business in China for the tennis player.
China is facing pressure from the UN over Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai's whereabouts as the organization called for an investigation into her allegations of sexual assault, reported CNN.
Peng, who is one of China's most recognizable sports stars, has not been seen in public since she accused former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of coercing her into sex at his home, according to screenshots of a since-deleted social media post dated November 2.
"What we would say is that it would be important to have proof of her whereabouts and wellbeing, and we would urge that there be an investigation with full transparency into her allegations of sexual assault," Liz Throssell, the spokesperson of the UN Human Rights office, told reporters in Geneva on Friday.
"According to available information, the former world doubles No 1 hasn't been heard from publicly since she alleged on social media that she was sexually assaulted. We would stress that it is important to know where she is and know her state, know about her wellbeing," Throssell said.
The head of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) Steve Simon has said he is willing to lose hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of business in China if Peng is not fully accounted for and her allegations are not properly investigated, reported CNN.
"We're definitely willing to pull our business and deal with all the complications that come with it," Simon said in an interview Thursday with CNN. "Because this is certainly, this is bigger than the business. Women need to be respected and not censored," he said.
The White House said on Friday that it is "deeply concerned". Jen Psaki, the White House Press Secretary, told reporters, "We are deeply concerned about reports that Peng Shuai appears to be missing after accusing a former PRC (Peoples Republic of China) senior official of sexual assaults. We join in the calls for PRC authorities to provide independent and verifiable proof of her whereabouts and that she is safe."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. Her Weibo account, which has more than half a million followers, is still blocked from searchers on the platform, reported CNN.
Earlier this week, Chinese state media released an email, purportedly sent to Simon from Peng, walking back her allegations and claiming she is fine.
The alleged email was released only on English-language platforms and domestic Chinese media have not reported on its contents, despite Peng being a household name in China.
When asked about the email, Simon questioned its veracity, describing it as a "staged statement of some type," noting he had yet to receive a follow-up reply, despite responding immediately, reported CNN.
"Whether she was coerced into writing it, someone wrote it for her, we don't know," said Simon. "But at this point, I don't think there's any validity in it and we won't be comfortable until we have a chance to speak with her," he added.
Chinese state media Twitter accounts have been increasingly posting anonymously sourced information about the tennis star, ostensibly aimed at quelling the controversy without even acknowledging her claim against Zhang.
All media organizations in China are strictly controlled by the country's propaganda authorities. Their tweets about Peng are not reported inside China, which has long banned Twitter and other international social media platforms reported CNN.
On Thursday, Serena Williams joined a growing number of international tennis players to voice concern over Peng's whereabouts.
"I am devastated and shocked to hear about the news of my peer, Peng Shuai. I hope she is safe and found as soon as possible," Williams wrote on Twitter. "This must be investigated and we must not stay silent."Tennis superstar Naomi Osaka on Tuesday said she was "in shock of the current situation.""Censorship is never OK at any cost, I hope Peng Shuai and her family are safe and OK," she wrote as part of a statement on Twitter alongside the hashtag WhereIsPengShuai.
The controversy risks impacting the forthcoming 2022 Winter Olympics, which are set to kick off in Beijing in less than three months.
Calls for a boycott have been growing in recent months, owing to concerns over China's alleged human rights abuses. On Thursday, US President Joe Biden confirmed he is mulling a diplomatic boycott of the event, reported CNN.
The international concern for Peng, who is a three-time Olympian, having represented China at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, London in 2012, and Beijing in 2008, could now strengthen those calls. (ANI)