Peng Shuai, the Chinese tennis star whose account of sexual coercion by a former Communist Party chief ignited weeks of tensions and galvanized requires boycotts of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, has reversed her assertion that she had been sexually assaulted by the official.
Ms. Peng made the feedback in an interview that was printed on Sunday by a Singaporean newspaper. But the retraction appeared unlikely to extinguish issues about her well-being and suspicions that she had been the goal of well-honed strain strategies and a propaganda campaign by Chinese officers.
The controversy erupted last month when Ms. Peng wrote in a submit on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, that she had maintained a yearslong, on-and-off relationship with Zhang Gaoli, now 75, a retired Chinese vice premier. She mentioned that in an encounter with him about three years in the past, she had “never consented” and that she was “crying all the time.”
She then abruptly dropped from public view, and global concern for her whereabouts grew. In a written assertion later, she appeared to hunt to tug again the accusation, and the Women’s Tennis Association and different skilled gamers rallied to her facet, saying they believed that her assertion had been written underneath official duress.
The tennis affiliation suspended playing matches in China whereas in search of to determine impartial contact with Ms. Peng. Last week, the leaders of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee criticized China’s handling of Ms. Peng’s case.
In the interview with Lianhe Zaobao, a Chinese-language Singaporean newspaper, Ms. Peng, 35, mentioned, “First, I want to stress a very important point — I never said or wrote that anyone sexually assaulted me.”
“There may have been misunderstandings by everyone,” she mentioned of her preliminary submit on Weibo.
Ms. Peng additionally denied that she had been underneath home arrest or that she had been pressured to make any statements towards her will.
“Why would someone keep watch over me?” she mentioned. “I’ve been very free all along.”
Her denial drew skepticism from human rights advocates, who’ve mentioned that Chinese officers seem to have corralled her into rehearsed video appearances.
Kenneth Roth, the chief director of Human Rights Watch, said on Twitter that Ms. Peng’s newest assertion was “only deepening concerns about the pressure to which the Chinese government is subjecting her.”
Last month, video clips of her at a Beijing restaurant had been posted on the Twitter account of the chief editor of The Global Times, an influential newspaper run by the Communist Party. The editor described them as exhibiting Ms. Peng having dinner along with her coach and pals. She additionally appeared in live video calls with the president of the International Olympic Committee and other officials with the group.
The Chinese authorities are more likely to seize on Ms. Peng’s newest assertion, recorded on video, to push again towards requires a full investigation of her claims and to oppose the tennis affiliation’s suspension of matches in China.
The minutes-long interview with Ms. Peng, which happened at a snowboarding competitors in Shanghai, left many key questions unasked and unanswered.
She was not requested immediately about her relationship with Mr. Zhang, who was a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, the Communist Party’s highest physique. Nor was she requested how her understanding of sexual assault squared along with her earlier description of what had occurred with Mr. Zhang.
Ms. Peng has been one in all China’s highest-ranked tennis gamers, reaching No. 1 in doubles in 2014 and as excessive as 14th as a singles participant. Her Weibo account in early November of her relationship with Mr. Zhang lasted for all of 20 minutes earlier than Chinese censors erased it. But the information shortly unfold on-line.
Since then, the Women’s Tennis Association and different organizations have pressed the Chinese authorities to make sure Ms. Peng’s security and to provide her an opportunity to recount freely what had occurred with Mr. Zhang.
The interview printed on Sunday got here after the worldwide arm of China’s state broadcaster, China Global Television Network, publicized an English-language e-mail in Ms. Peng’s title in November. In it, she denies the sexual assault accusations and asks to be left alone.
Understand the Disappearance of Peng Shuai
But Steve Simon, chief govt of the Women’s Tennis Association, and lots of rights activists have raised doubts about its authenticity.
After this newest interview, a spokesperson for the affiliation mentioned it nonetheless had not been in a position to make impartial contact with Ms. Peng. And the affiliation mentioned in a press release, “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.”
It added, “As we have consistently stated, these appearances do not alleviate or address the W.T.A.’s significant concerns about her well-being and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion.”
In the interview, Ms. Peng mentioned she had written a Chinese assertion “entirely of my own free will,” after which somebody had helped her translate it into English.
There was no point out of Ms. Peng’s newest feedback in Chinese state media, which operates inside a wall of censorship.