Tennis star gave a 'forced confession' under watch of China, says human rights activist

Peng Shaui has denied claims she gave a forced confession

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Tennis star Peng Shaui gave a 'forced confession' during a interview with foreign media where she denied her own allegation of sexual assault a human rights activists have said.

Peng Shuai described reports that she accused a high-ranking Chinese official of sexual assault as a “huge misunderstanding” as she repeated her denial the alleged incident ever took place in a interview during the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing which has been described as highly staged.

The former doubles world number one said in a social media post in November that she was forced to have sex with former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli. Her post was swiftly deleted and her subsequent silence raised fears over her safety.

In an interview published on Monday with the French newspaper L’Equipe, during which she was accompanied by Chinese Olympic Committee chief of staff Wang Kan who translated her responses, Peng insisted she had been unaware of the global concern.

But the interview has come into question after an images released of the interview shows a Chinese official standing in the room with Peng.

Yaqiu Wang, a senior China researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the interview is part of the Communist Party's 'propaganda scheme' and urged organisations to think twice before engaging with Peng 'knowing she can't speak freely'.

The interview was released at the same time as a statement by the International Olympic Committee, which confirmed Peng had had dinner on Saturday with its president Thomas Bach and the former chair of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, Kirsty Coventry.

In the interview with L’Equipe, Peng said: “I never said anyone had sexually assaulted me in any way.

“There was a huge misunderstanding in the outside world following this post. I don’t want the meaning of this post to be twisted anymore. And I don’t want any further media hype around it.

“I never disappeared. Everyone could see me. I never disappeared. It’s just that many people, like my friends or people from the IOC messaged me, and it was simply impossible to answer so many messages. But I’ve been always in close contact with my close friends.”

Peng’s predicament sparked a global call for transparency led by the Women’s Tennis Association, which announced in December the suspension of all tournaments in China due to its dissatisfaction with the response to the allegation from the Chinese authorities