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#WhereIsPengShuai? Suspicious email escalates concern for Peng's well-being
On Wednesday, a China state-affiliated media organization with more than 13 million followers posted a tweet with a dubious message claiming to be from the former doubles world No. 1 to WTA Chairman & CEO Steve Simon.
Published Nov 17, 2021
For most of us, our email inboxes have been on the receiving end of unwanted messages. There are the spam notes indicating a sum of money is waiting on the other end, or phishing scams seeking to acquire personal information by attempting to masquerade as a financial institution.
On Wednesday, CGTN, a China state-affiliated media organization with 13.4 million followers on Twitter, posted an email that embodied those very characteristics. In this case, the deceptive message is of greater concern, for it claimed to be a note from two-time major doubles champion Peng Shuai to WTA Chairman & CEO Steve Simon.
The 2014 US Open semifinalist has not been heard from directly since November 2, when Peng alleged she was sexually assaulted by former vice premier Zhang Gaoli on her official Weibo account—where her post was soon removed by the platform. CGTN’s suspicious tweet, if anything, has only increased fear for Peng's well-being and safety.
There were several red flags. For one, the cursor was still visible in the body of the message. Phrases like, “If the WTA publishes any more news about me, please verify with me, and release with my consent,” were unconvincing. Most disturbing, it attempted to downplay Peng’s sexual assault allegation and stated, “I’ve just been resting at home and everything is fine.”
If everything was truly fine, surely one of Peng’s numerous colleagues would have heard from the 35-year-old and spread the word to reassure the tennis community. That is yet to happen.
On Sunday, Simon told Christopher Clarey of the New York Times that the women’s tour had “received confirmation from several sources, including the Chinese Tennis Association, that she is safe and not under any physical threat.”
However, Simon and his colleagues are yet to connect with Peng. In an update published Wednesday by TIME Magazine, he revealed, “We have worked every method available to us,” says Simon. “Voice, digital, tweeting. WeChat. WhatsApp. Text. There are plenty of different messaging things we all use and are all able to communicate with. And none of those have produced a result as of this point.”
Simon later released a statement, declaring, “I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her. Peng Shuai displayed incredible courage in describing an allegation of sexual assault against a former top official in the Chinese government.
“Peng Shuai must be allowed to speak freely, without coercion or intimidation from any source. Her allegation of sexual assault must be respected, investigated with full transparency and without censorship. The voices of women need to be heard and respected, not censored nor dictated to.”
Until the WTA or one of Peng's peers can verify her whereabouts, anyone unsettled by the situation should continue asking, #WhereIsPengShuai.