More disturbing evidence has emerged of just how far China will go to prevent the world from knowing the truth about tennis star Peng Shuai.
The world continues to fear for the wellbeing of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai even after photos and videos were released claiming to show her doing fine.
Chinese state media recently published images and clips of the former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion to allay concerns after she was silent for two weeks following her accusations that a top Communist Party politician, former vice premier Zhang Gaoli, sexually assaulted her.
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On Monday, the International Olympic Committee said its president Thomas Bach had a lengthy chat with the athlete as pressure mounted for answers about her safety.
“At the beginning of the 30-minute call, Peng Shuai thanked the IOC for its concern about her wellbeing,” the organisation said, adding “she explained that she is safe and well, living at her home in Beijing, but would like to have her privacy respected at this time”.
“That is why she prefers to spend her time with friends and family right now. Nevertheless, she will continue to be involved in tennis, the sport she loves so much.”
The pictures and videos provided by Chinese state media were widely suspected of being staged, while the IOC was slammed for being “complicit” in alleged Chinese propaganda for failing to address Peng’s allegations against Gaoli.
On Tuesday (AEDT), worrying evidence of China’s censorship of Peng’s case was highlighted by American broadcaster CNN.
During a cross with international correspondent Will Ripley, a live feed of CNN’s broadcast into China is shown on screen at the same time — but the content is being censored. Instead of Chinese viewers being able to watch the network’s news program, the coverage cuts out and is replaced by colour bars.
One of the anchors said: “I want to explain to our viewers what’s happening on our screen right now because underneath your (Ripley’s) face, they can see a box which is the actual live feed of this broadcast in China, but it’s all colour bars and it went to colour bars the minute you started talking.”
Ripley added: “Chinese censors, John. I have lost count over the last eight years here in Asia covering China how many times CNN’s coverage of controversial issues has been censored.
“It used to go straight to black, now they’ve upgraded and they go to colour bars. But nonetheless it is a live, real-time example of the censorship that’s happening in the mainland.
“They scrubbed Peng Shuai from the internet, they’re certainly not talking about this on television and even on international networks, they have an army of censors waiting to push that button the minute that we start talking about this story.”
Following a global outcry, including from tennis superstars and the United Nations, Chinese state media reporters released a flurry of footage purporting to show all is well with Peng.
A video from the Fila Kids Junior Tennis Challenger Finals event, tweeted by Global Times newspaper editor Hu Xijin, showed Peng standing in a stadium among a group of guests whose names were announced to a smattering of applause.
A Global Times reporter tweeted another video showing Peng signing autographs for children at what appeared to be the same stadium before posing for photos with them.
Hu also posted two other videos on the weekend, the first showing Peng walking into a restaurant wearing a coat, knit cap and face mask, and the second of a maskless Peng sitting at a table chatting with people over a meal.
Hu tweeted in English that the second video shows “Peng Shuai was having dinner with her coach and friends in a restaurant. The video content clearly shows they are shot on Saturday Beijing time”.
The conversation revolved around “tennis matches”. A man sitting with Peng and two women said “tomorrow is November 20th”, but one of the women quickly corrects him, saying, “It is the 21st”, implying that the video was filmed on the weekend.
The chat appeared to be staged.
The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has threatened to end lucrative contracts with China unless it gets word of Peng’s safety.
On the restaurant videos, WTA boss Steve Simon said he was glad to see the images but “it remains unclear if she is free and able to make decisions and take actions on her own, without coercion or external interference”.
“This video alone is insufficient,” Simon said in a statement. “I have been clear about what needs to happen and our relationship with China is at a crossroads.”