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An email allegedly from Peng Shuai has surfaced with the tennis star claiming she is not actually missing and that her recent sexual assault allegations against a politician from the Chinese Communist party are false.
Naturally, people aren't buying it.
Former Wimbledon winner Peng went missing a few weeks back with friends, family and tennis officials unable to make contact with her.
There have been growing concerns over her whereabouts and safety with a number of high-profile stars, including Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka, urging the public to come forward with any information.
Peng's disappearance came shortly after she accused former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli of the Communist party in China of sexual assault.
Now though, almost three weeks later, the Chinese state media are reporting that Peng has sent an email to the sport's governing body WTA that she is alive and well.
"Hello everyone this is Peng Shuai," the email allegedly written by Peng says.
"Regarding the recent news released on the official website of the WTA, the content has not been confirmed or verified by myself and it was released without my consent.
"The news in that release, including the allegation of sexual assault, is not true. I'm not missing, nor am I unsafe. I've just been resting at home and everything is fine. Thank you again for caring about me.
"If the WTA publishes ant more news about me, please verify it with me, and release it with my consent. As a professional tennis player, I thank you all for your companionship and consideration.
"I hope to promote Chinese tennis with you all if I have the chance in the future. I hope Chinese tennis will become better and better.
"Once again, thank you for your consideration."
The fishy email has left people even more worried than they were before - WTA chief Steve Simon being one of them.
"The statement released today by Chinese state media concerning Peng Shuai only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts," Simon said.
"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."
The level of censorship happening around the Peng Shuai story in China now is harrowing. Even in private messages. https://t.co/oC9fcyDWP6- Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) November 17, 2021
From Chinese state media, "from" Peng Shuai. Deeply dubious. pic.twitter.com/XJkB169VD9- Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) November 17, 2021
Didn't think I could be more worried about Peng Shuai but I am after reading this.- Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) November 17, 2021
Dubious doesn't cut it... What the hell is this? And how do they think this is remotely believable?https://t.co/mRul0NiHne
Extremely worrying story.- Craig Foster (@Craig_Foster) November 17, 2021
Outstanding from @wta Chair, Steve Simon.
Strong, not captured by the economic weight of China as most sports are, protective of the basic rights & wellbeing of an athlete with no compromise.
Should be the norm.
Hoping for successful outcome, Steve. https://t.co/EE2lDR93bA
Can't think of many (any?) examples of a sports leader ignoring financial/relationship repercussions in order to talk bluntly and honestly about the most important of issues, rather than hedging with management speak. Good for him. https://t.co/O6l8unkAA1- David Law (@DavidLawTennis) November 17, 2021
The email itself has been met with widespread skepticism, with some people directly calling out the Chinese state media and demanding answers for the "fake" writing.
Meanwhile, others have heaped praise on the WTA for ignoring potential financial repercussions by taking appropriate action to ensure Peng is safe and sound.
All we can hope for is a successful outcome in this truly awful case, but this latest incident unfortunately casts major doubt in everyone's minds.
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