Sat, 04 Dec 2021

New York [US], November 24 (ANI): The International Olympic Committee's (IOC) collaboration with Chinese authorities on tennis star Peng Shuai's reappearance undermines its expressed commitment to human rights, including the rights and safety of athletes, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday.

This comes after IOC last week said in a statement that its president, Thomas Bach, had a 30-minute video call with three-time Olympian Peng Shuai, joined by a Chinese sports official and an IOC official.

The statement said that, during the call, Peng appeared to be "doing fine" and "relaxed," and said she "would like to have her privacy respected." The IOC did not explain how the video call with Peng had been organized, given the difficulties other concerned parties have had reaching her.

Yaqiu Wang, a senior China researcher at HRW, said that the IOC has vaulted itself from silence about Beijing's abysmal human rights record to active collaboration with Chinese authorities in undermining freedom of speech and disregarding alleged sexual assault. "The IOC appears to prize its relationship with a major human rights violator over the rights and safety of Olympic athletes," Wang added.

Peng, 35, went missing on November 2 after she said on Chinese social media that she had been sexually assaulted and forced into a sexual relationship with Zhang Gaoli, 75, who was China's vice premier from 2013 to 2018.

On November 18, the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) received a statement purporting to be from Peng, recanting her abuse claim. In response, the IOC said that it was "encouraged by assurance that she is safe." On November 19 and 20, photos and videos of Peng appearing in her home, in a restaurant, and at a youth tennis event in Beijing emerged on Twitter accounts affiliated with government-run media. At the same time, Peng has not spoken directly with the media or the WTA.

The rights group said that the Chinese authorities do not appear to have initiated an investigation into Peng's complaint against Zhang. The IOC claims to be "actively taking steps to protect athletes from all forms of harassment and abuse in sport." However, it has not said whether it has offered support to Peng concerning her sexual assault allegations, HRW said.

"Since the MeToo movement took off in China in early 2019, the authorities have censored victims of sexual harassment and harassed women's rights activists. In September, Guangzhou police detained journalist and MeToo activist Huang Xueqin on charges of inciting subversion of state power," it added.

By cooperating with Chinese authorities in this video call, the IOC failed to adhere to its own human rights commitments and to protect the free expression rights of Olympic athletes, Human Rights Watch said. The IOC's conduct also undermined the efforts by the WTA and other international sports organizations and individuals to secure Peng's safety and freedom, and hold the Chinese government to account for human rights violations.

In light of the Bach-Peng call, Human Rights Watch called on the IOC to retract its statement regarding the video call and explain publicly the circumstances surrounding the call and the statement, including any details of Chinese government involvement. The rights group also urged the Chinese government to open an independent and transparent investigation into Peng's allegations. (ANI)

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