Beijing—Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has denied alleging that a senior Communist Party leader sexually assaulted her and insisted she is living freely, in her first media interview since her accusations triggered concerns for her safety.
However, the comments did not ease worries at the Women’s Tennis Association, which said Monday that it still had “significant concerns about her well-being and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion”.
The former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion’s quickly-censored social media post last month sparked international concern, including from the United Nations, the White House and fellow tennis stars.
In comments to Lianhe Zaobao, a Singaporean Chinese-language newspaper, Peng denied making the allegation.
“I would like to stress a very important point: I have never said nor written anything accusing anyone of sexually assaulting me,” the 35-year-old said in footage apparently filmed on a phone at a sports event in Shanghai.
“I would like to emphasize this point very clearly.”
In a post on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform, Peng had alleged that former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli—who is in his 70s—coerced her into sex during an on-off relationship spanning several years.
The post was quickly scrubbed from the Chinese web, but not before screenshots were posted on Twitter, setting off a global outcry.
In the Zaobao video, when asked about the Weibo post, Peng said it was a “private matter” that people had “many misunderstandings” about.
She did not elaborate.
In the video, a person is heard asking if she is able to move around freely and if she has been under surveillance since making the accusations.
Peng responded that she has “always been very free”.
The WTA said it was still not convinced of Peng’s wellbeing.
“We remain steadfast in our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault,” the organisation said in a statement emailed to AFP.
The WTA has suspended all tournaments in China, including Hong Kong, over concerns about Peng.
‘My own free will’
The latest video follows images of Peng published by Chinese state media, including some of her at a tennis tournament.
They also published a screenshot of an email Peng purportedly wrote to the Women’s Tennis Association saying “everything is fine”.
But that did little to ease worries.
WTA chief Steve Simon said at the time he had “a hard time believing” Peng’s email and questioned whether she was really free to speak openly.
In the latest video, dressed in a red T-shirt and dark down jacket, both with “China” emblazoned on them, Peng told Zaobao that the email was legitimate and written “entirely of my own free will”.
In the shaky Zaobao footage, Peng appears to speak with Chinese basketball star Yao Ming at a skiing event.
Hours earlier, unverified images posted online by a Chinese state-affiliated journalist showed Peng speaking with Yao and two other Chinese sports figures — Olympic sailing champion Xu Lijia and retired table tennis player Wang Liqin.