Chinese state TV employees post photos, videos of missing tennis star amid international concern

A Chinese state TV employee posted photos of missing tennis star Peng Shuai online Friday in what is likely the first public documentation of the athlete since her whereabouts became unknown earlier this month.

Peng disappeared from the public eye after accusing former Chinese vice president Zhang Gaoli of coercing her into having sex with him in 2018 after a match and later abusing her during a relationship between the two. Tennis stars from around the worlds have since inquired about Peng's whereabouts.

Chinese state TV employee Shen Shiwei responded to the concerns by posting photos of Peng on Twitter, including shots of her holding a toy panda bear and a gray cat. According to the Associated Press, Shen works for the English-language China Global Television Network, which is part of China Central Television.

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“Peng Shuai’s WeChat moments just posted three latest photos and said ‘Happy weekend’. Her friend shared the three photos and the screenshot of Peng’s WeChat moments,” Shen explained of the photos' origins. WeChat is a popular Chinese social media app.

Hu Xijin, who also works for China state-affiliated media as the editor-in-chief of the Global Times, said on Saturday that those photos were of Peng’s “current state.”

“I confirmed through my own sources today that these photos are indeed Peng Shuai's current state. In the past few days, she stayed in her own home freely and she didn't want to be disturbed. She will show up in public and participate in some activities soon,” Hu tweeted.

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On Saturday, Shen also shared several videos and another photo of Peng, showing her at a dinner with friends. 

“I am glad to see the videos released by China state-run media that appear to show Peng Shuai at a restaurant in Beijing. While it is positive to see her, it remains unclear if she is free and able to make decisions and take actions on her own, without coercion or external interference,” Women’s Tennis Association Chairman and CEO Steve Simon said in a statement.

“This video alone is insufficient.  As I have stated from the beginning, I remain concerned about Peng Shuai’s health and safety and that the allegation of sexual assault is being censored and swept under the rug. I have been clear about what needs to happen and our relationship with China is at a crossroads,” he grimly warned. 

Simon said he was willing to pull business out of China if Peng was not physically accounted for and her allegations were not investigated.