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WTA questions authenticity of email from Peng Shuai

Chinese state-run media releases suspicious email from tennis star

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Former China Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, tennis star Peng Shuai. (Weibo photos)

Former China Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, tennis star Peng Shuai. (Weibo photos)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — An email purportedly from Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai (彭帥) released by Chinese state-run media on Thursday (Nov. 18) did little to quell concerns about her whereabouts and wellbeing after its authenticity was immediately challenged by journalists and questioned by the Women's Tennis Association (WTA).

At 1:36 a.m. on Thursday morning, China's state-run CGTN released a screenshot of what it claimed to be an email composed by Peng and sent to WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon. In the email, Peng wrote that news released about her on the WTA website had "not been confirmed or verified by myself," and that it had been posted without her consent.

The email asserts that allegations about former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli (張高麗) sexually assaulting Peng were "not true." The message also denied that Peng was missing or unsafe and claimed that she was "just resting at home and everything is fine."

The letter requested that WTA first verify any news it wishes to publish with her and obtain her permission in advance. In an email that was supposedly directed at Simon, she wrote, "I thank you all for your companionship and consideration."

One hour later, BBC journalist Stephen McDonnel retweeted CGTN's post and asked, "Why is the cursor visible in this screenshot?" He was referring to the presence of a cursor over the word "and" in the third line of the message, possibly indicating that it was still being edited when the screen capture was taken.

McDonnel also questioned why the email started out by saying, "Hello everyone," if it was meant to be sent directly to Simon. Netizens also noticed that the text wrapped in the same way it would if it had been typed in a Word document, which appeared to still be in edit mode due to the "blinking cursor."

Within hours, Simon posted an official response to the email on the WTA website. He said the email issued by CGTN "only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts."

Simon said he has a "hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email" his organization had received. He lauded her "incredible courage" to speak about the alleged sexual assault by the top-level Chinese government official.

"The WTA and the rest of the world need independent and verifiable proof that she is safe," demanded Simon. He pointed out that he had tried to directly contact Peng through numerous channels without success.

Simon argued that Peng must be "allowed to speak freely, without coercion or intimidation from any source." Alluding to the scrubbing of Peng's social media accounts and her two-week disappearance, he said Peng's allegations of sexual assault must be "respected, investigated with full transparency and without censorship."