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UK calls for 'verifiable evidence' Peng Shuai is safe after videos released by state media
21 November 2021, 09:42 | Updated: 21 November 2021, 09:54
The UK Foreign Office has called on China to provide evidence that Peng Shuai is safe after videos of her apparently out for dinner and at a tennis match were released by state-controlled media.
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A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said they remained "extremely concerned" despite the release of the footage, which is unverified.
"The Chinese authorities should urgently provide verifiable evidence of her safety and whereabouts," said the spokesperson.
"Everyone should be allowed to speak out without fear of repercussions.
"All reports of sexual assault, anywhere in the world, should be investigated."
The videos, shared on twitter by journalist Hu Zijin, editor in chief of the state-affiliated Global Times, appear to show the 35-year-old having dinner with her coach and friends in a restaurant, and attending the opening ceremony of a tennis match in Beijing.
I acquired two video clips, which show 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. pic.twitter.com/HxuwB5TfBk— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) November 20, 2021
Peng Shuai showed up at the opening ceremony of a teenager tennis match final in Beijing on Sunday morning. Global Times photo reporter Cui Meng captured her at scene. pic.twitter.com/7wlBcTMgGy— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) November 21, 2021
However, head of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) Steve Simon said the videos did not mean she was "free and able to make decisions and take actions on her own".
"This video alone is insufficient," said Mr Simon in a statement from the WTA.
"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."
Ms Shuai has not been reliably heard from since she accused Zhang Gaoli - a former government official - of forcing her to have sex with him on November 2.
She made the allegation in a lengthy social media post, which was swiftly deleted.
Since then, the media have released a number of communications that they claim to be from her.
Yesterday, Mr Xijin shared photos of what he said were Ms Shuai's "current state", adding that she was "freely" at her home and did not want to be disturbed.
The photos, which he said were shared on WeChat, appeared to show her holding a cat and surrounded by cuddly toys and were apparently captioned "Happy weekend".
But experts have questioned the authenticity of the images, not least because one features a picture of Winnie the Pooh, a character who is banned in China.
The journalist promised the tennis star would make a public appearance "soon".
As well as the photos, the broadcaster also shared an email last Wednesday claiming to be from Ms Shuai.
It was sent to the WTA and claimed the sexual assault allegation was not true, adding she was "resting at home and everything is fine".
Prominent figures and organisations within the tennis world also remain unconvinced that the communications are proof Ms Shuai is safe.
On Saturday Wimbledon joined calls for her safety to be confirmed, saying the club has been working behind the scenes on the issue.
"We are united with the rest of tennis in the need to understand that Peng Shuai is safe," said the club in a statement.
"We have been working in support of the WTA's efforts to establish her safety through our relationships behind the scenes.
"Along with the global tennis community, we would like Peng Shuai to know that her wellbeing is of the utmost importance to us, and we will continue to work to gain clarity on her safety."
The WTA has threatened to pull out of the lucrative Chinese part of its tour next season unless it is proved that Ms Shuai is safe - a move supported by men's world number one Novak Djokovic.
"I heard just now that the WTA is willing to pull out from China with all the tournaments unless this is resolved. I support it 100 per cent," he said.
"It's important because this is horrifying. I mean, a person is missing.
"China is a huge country. It's a very important part of the world especially for the WTA. They have many tournaments there. I mean, this is necessary for us to take whatever action."
Calls for China to prove she is safe have also come from the political sphere.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday: "We are deeply concerned by reports that Peng Shuai appears to be missing after accusing a former PRC (People's 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."
Liz Throssell, the spokesman for the UN Human Rights Office, echoed those concerns and called for an investigation "with full transparency" into Ms Shuai's allegations.
Throssell told reporters: "(Ms Shuai) hasn't been heard from publicly since she alleged on social media that she was sexually assaulted.
"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."