On Wednesday, Chinese state-run publication CGTN posted on Twitter an email supposedly sent from missing Wimbledon champion Peng Shuai to Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Chairman Steve Simon. Peng recenly disappeared after publicly accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault.
“Hello everyone this is Peng Shuai. 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 email stated. “The news in that release, including the allegation of sexual assault, is not true.”
“I am not missing, nor am I unsafe,” it continued. “I’ve just been resting at home and everything is fine. Thank you again for caring about me.”
“If the WTA publishes any 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,” the email added. “I hope to promote Chinese tennis with you all if I have the chance in the future. I hop eChinese tennis will become better and better. Once again, thank you for your consideration.”
According to CNN, Simon questioned the email’s authenticity, describing it as a “staged statement of some type.” He said he has not received a reply despite immediately responding.
“Whether she was coerced into writing it, someone wrote it for her, we don’t know,” Simon said. “But at this point I don’t think there’s any validity in it and we won’t be comfortable until we have a chance to speak with her.”
Simon wasn’t the only one to question the email’s veracity. Many on Twitter said it was obvious propaganda pushed by the Chinese Communist Party in an attempt to cover up Peng’s kidnapping.
“If Peng Shuai’s disappearance — and these clumsy attempts by the Chinese government to cover it up — aren’t reason enough to seriously begin considering a @Beijing2022 @Olympics boycott, I don’t know what is. @TeamCanada @TeamUSA,” tweeted Toronto-based reporter Bryan Passifiume.
The Washington Post’s Emily Rauhala called the email a “dark spectacle.”
“This dark spectacle is giving ‘he kidnapped himself from his beach house in Thailand’ vibes,” she tweeted. “The utter lack of credibility is, at least in part, the point.”
Politico China correspondent Phelim Kine tweeted, “This bizarre statement should be read as the equivalent of an official admission that Peng Shuai is the victim of an enforced disappearance. #WhereIsPengShuai.”
In an additional push to find Peng, Simon threatened to pull hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business out of China if the player is not accounted for.
On November 2, Peng accused former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of coercing her into sex. Peng revealed the alleged incident in a post on the Chinese social media network Weibo.
Within 30 minutes of publication, Peng’s post was deleted and Chinese censors immediately worked to remove all mentions of the accusation online. The popular tennis star’s Weibo account – which has over 500,000 followers — was also blocked from searchers.
She hasn’t been seen since.
Other top athletes have spoken out about Peng’s disappearance, including tennis star Serena Williams.
“I am devastated and shocked to hear about the news of my peer, Peng Shuai. I hope she is safe and found as soon as possible,” Williams tweeted. “This must be investigated and we must not stay silent. Sending love to her and her family during this incredibly difficult time. #whereispengshuai.”
Former American professional tennis player Patrick McEnroe tweeted, “We want to know. We need to know. #WhereIsPengShuai.”
Romanian professional tennis player Simona Halep also spoke out for the missing athlete, writing, “Peng Shuai, please know that your fellow players stand with you.”
“Thinking of you and hope you are safe,” she continued, adding the hashtag #whereispengshuai.