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Peng Shuai saga: Chinese tennis ace now denies making sex assault claim

Peng Shuai reacts during her women's singles first-round match against Nao Hibino of Japan at the Australian Open Grand Slam tennis tournament in Melbourne in 2020. Photo by Francis Malasig/EPA-EFE

Dec. 20 (UPI) -- There is renewed concern Monday for Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, who disappeared for weeks in November after accusing a former government official of sexually assaulting her -- after she now has denied that she ever made the accusation.

There was global concern for Peng's well-being after she made a social media post on Nov. 2 that said she was sexually assaulted by former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, particularly when she dropped out of sight and didn't comment for weeks after making the post.

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She resurfaced after about three weeks in a video call with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach and said she was fine. After persistent concern, due to China's human rights record and secretive nature, Peng told a Singapore newspaper on Sunday that she never accused Zhang of assault.

"First, I need to stress one point that is extremely important: I have never said or written that anyone has sexually assaulted me, I have to clearly stress this point," she told the paper, according to The Guardian.

In the video, Peng said that she emailed WTA CEO Steve Simon last month and recanted the sexual assault accusation. Simon said he isn't convinced of the email's authenticity. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
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A former world No. 1 doubles player, Peng added that she's always been "very free" and that there has been no surveillance of her activities. She also said there have been "misunderstandings."

The new remarks from Peng have only heightened concern among some for her well-being.

"We remain steadfast in our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern," the Women's Tennis Association, which has barred all tournaments in China over the matter, said on Monday, according to CNN.

RELATED ITF says it won't 'punish' people in China over concerns for tennis player Peng Shuai

In the video, Peng said that she emailed WTA CEO Steve Simon last month and recanted the sexual assault accusation. Simon said he isn't convinced of the email's authenticity.

The newspaper said it interviewed Peng at an event in Shanghai on Sunday promoting the Winter Olympics in Beijing, which are scheduled to begin Feb. 4. Multiple countries, including the United States, have ordered a diplomatic boycott of the Games due to China's human rights record.

RELATED WTA suspends tournaments in China over Peng Shuai allegations

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