BEIJING — An employee of Chinese state TV has posted photos of missing tennis star Peng Shuai online in a new effort to dispel concern about her disappearance after she accused a senior leader of sexual assault.
These photos were posted to Twitter on Friday, but they are not accessible by many internet users in China. The state TV employee, Shen Shiwei, wrote they were on Peng’s account on the WeChat message service with the comment, “Happy Weekend.”
The ruling Communist Party faces mounting appeals from tennis stars and the sport’s professional tour to prove Peng, a three-time Olympian and former No. 1-ranked women’s doubles player, is safe and let her speak freely.
Meanwhile, the editor of a newspaper published by the party said Peng would “show up in public” soon.
As China prepares for the Winter Olympics, the controversy has political implications. A Foreign Ministry spokesperson on Friday denied knowing about the outcry over Peng’s disappearance.
Peng, 35, hasn’t been seen in public since posting a statement on social media this month accusing Zhang Gaoli, a former member of the party’s Standing Committee, the ruling inner circle of power, of forcing her to have sex despite repeated refusals.
Shen works at CGTN, an English-language branch of China Central Television whose programming is aimed to foreign viewers. After CGTN published a statement it claimed was from Peng, this tweet by Shen came as Zhang’s accusation were retracted.
The editor of Global Times, an English-language newspaper published by the Communist Party, said on Twitter he had confirmed from unidentified sources that the 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,” wrote the editor, Hu Xijin. “She will show up in public and participate in some activities soon.”
Peng was pictured with a gray cat while holding a panda figure in her hand. She also had stuffed animals behind her. It was not clear when these photos were taken.
The chairman and CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association, Steve Simon, on Wednesday questioned the legitimacy of the statement released by CGTN. Simon said it “only raises my concerns as to her safety.”