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Fears grow for missing Chinese tennis star who accused ex-official of sexual assault

Fred Lee/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — Fears are growing about the safety and whereabouts of a Chinese tennis star, who has remained unheard from since she accused a former Chinese official of sexual assault.

Peng Shuai, 35, a former No. 1 globally ranked tennis player, wrote in her verified Weibo microblog about what she decribed as the years-long affair she had with former vice premier Zhang Gaoli, and how she had been allegedly sexually assaulted by him. The alleged incident occured just before their relationship began.

The post disappeared from her blog a few minutes after it was posted. Searches for either names, Peng Shuai or Zhang Gaoli, on Chinese main portals come back empty. However, the screenshot of Shuai’s post has kept circulating on the internet.

“I have no evidence, and it is impossible to leave evidence at all… You are always afraid of what recorder I bring, leaving evidence or something,” Shuai wrote in her note.

“But even if I become like an egg hitting against a rocks and like moths extinguished in the flame, I will tell the truth about you,” she added.

Shuai’s act of speaking up drew admiration and at the same time raised concern about her safety by tennis champions around the world.

“I am in shock,” tweeted Naomi Osaka, Japanese professional tennis player and former world’s No 1 tennis star, expressing her worry about Peng’s safety.

“Censorship is never ok at any cost, I hope Peng Shuai and her family are safe and ok,” she wrote.

Chinese officials have not shown any move indicating their intention of doing an investigation of the matter.

Asked to respond to the mounting questions, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said: “I have not heard of the issue you raised. This is not a diplomatic question,” as Agence France-Press reported.

“We commend Peng Shuai for her remarkable courage and strength in coming forward,” reads a statement published by the Women’s Tennis Association on Nov. 14.

The WTA Tour wrote it expects the issue to be handled “properly, meaning the allegations must be investigated fully, fairly, transparently and without censorship.”

Steve Simon, the chief executive of the WTA Tour, told the New York Times, the Tour has received information from several sources, including the Chinese Tennis Association, that she is “safe and not under any physical threat.”

However, Simon added that no one associated with the WTA Tour, including officials and active players, have so far been able to reach her directly to confirm her status.

On Tuesday a New York Times report included a tweeted image from the account of a Chinese state-affiliated media outlet. The image is of a letter purported to be from Shuai to Simon and claims that her “allegation of sexual assault, is not true” and that “I’m not missing, nor am I unsafe.” The letter’s origin has so far, been unverified.

“The statement released today by Chinese state media concerning Peng Shuai only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts,” Simon said in a statement Tuesday. “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. The WTA and the rest of the world need independent and verifiable proof that she is safe. I have repeatedly tried to reach her via numerous forms of communication, to no avail. 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,” his statement continued.

ABC News’ Karson Yiu contributed to this report.

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