The WTA said Wednesday that it is “deeply concerned” that Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai was “subjected to the confinement and surveillance of officers from China’s secret police” in relation to an incident on a plane while on her way to the WTA Finals in Singapore, where she is the fourth seed.
A recording of a conversation between Peng’s attorney and officials in Shanghai in June was published in Chinese media, with the lawyer saying she had been “forced to stay in a hotel room for eight days, subject to telephonic surveillance, and barred from communicating with friends, colleagues, lawyers, relatives and Chinese media.” In China, although Peng could speak fluent English, she was not permitted to answer the interpreter’s questions in English, according to the recording. The police officials told the lawyer Peng “had not committed a crime,” which the lawyer said made him wonder if she had been mistreated for being perceived as too outspoken about political politics.
The WTA said it had learned that Peng “had been detained by the Shanghai CIU,” or Customs and Excise Law Enforcement Department, which “has denied that they were responsible for taking any action against her, including her detention and inhumane treatment.”
“We have no idea as to what has happened to her, and it is obviously deeply concerning to us that she was so mistreated and intimidated by government agents,” WTA President Steve Simon said in a statement. “We hope that she and other players who would prefer not to be politicized are afforded the rights to freedom of speech, expression and peaceful assembly.”
China had previously issued an official statement about Peng, the Women’s Tennis Association and WTA said. In that statement, the government noted that “Peng Shuai is an athlete competing in a sport that belongs to the international community and is controlled by the WTA” and stressed that Peng is “aware of the obligations imposed upon all national athletes” by Chinese law. “All of the WTA organizations are aware that their athletes should uphold the status of their country’s flag.”
According to the prosecutor in Shanghai, Peng “had not been released from prison as of Sept. 24 and is still under trial,” the Chinese government’s prosecutor said in a statement on its official website on Oct. 10. Peng, 35, was released from prison in June and is still serving a yearlong prison sentence after she was charged in August with disrupting traffic by driving a car on a Shanghai highway in 2015. Peng told a local reporter in September that she was not aware of the case against her.