The Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers, has criticized the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for not doing enough to verify the welfare of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), chair and co-chair of the CECC, respectively, voiced their criticism in letters dated Nov. 24 to IOC President Thomas Bach, and IOC Athletes Commission Chair Emma Terho.
Bach and Terho spoke to Peng in a video call on Nov. 21, amid mounting international concern about the athlete’s well-being.
Peng’s safety became a concern after she went on social media to post allegations of sexual assault on Nov. 2 against Zhang Gaoli, a retired Chinese Communist Party official who was once the communist regime’s vice premier. She alleged that Zhang coerced her into sex several years ago and then the two had an on-and-off consensual relationship.
She then vanished from the public eye before reappearing in Chinese state-run media last weekend, with one video showing her at a restaurant.
Peng, a former world No. 1 in women’s doubles in 2014, currently ranks at No. 192.
Following Bach and Terho’s Nov. 21 call with Peng, the IOC released a statement in which Peng allegedly said she was “safe and well” and “living at her home in Beijing.”
The IOC statement also cited Terho: “I was relieved to see that Peng Shuai was doing fine, which was our main concern. She appeared to be relaxed.”
In their letter to Terho, the U.S. lawmakers asked “whether it is appropriate to conclude, based on a single remote video call, that a person who claimed to have been the victim of sexual assault is ‘doing fine.’”
“Ms. Peng’s current situation may make it difficult if not impossible for her to speak to her mental health, even if she chooses to do so, given the heavy censorship of her and her case, and the fact that access to her apparently is controlled by Chinese authorities,” the lawmakers wrote.
Beijing’s censors scrubbed Peng’s online accusation about 30 minutes after she posted it in early November. Since then, mentions of the tennis star have been heavily censored inside China.
The two lawmakers also told Bach that the IOC call with Peng had “failed to address many of the continuing concerns about her situation.”
“We do not know whether she has freedom of movement or speech, or whether she is in some form of enforced home detention. We do not know the state of her mental or physical health following her accusation of sexual assault, much less whether authorities are investigating the subject of her allegation,” the lawmakers wrote.
The Chinese regime uses home detention, also known as house arrest, as an extra-judicial method to silence individuals while subjecting them to arbitrary treatment. Even when they are allowed to leave their home, for purposes such as buying necessities, they are likely followed by police or disguised people working for the Chinese authorities.
One of the best-known victims of house arrest is Chen Guangcheng, a blind Chinese dissident and lawyer, who was subjected to house arrest for nearly 20 months before he escaped to the United States in 2012. In July, he became a U.S. citizen in Baltimore.
Merkley and McGovern asked Terho to “take a more active role in defending” Peng, including demanding that the Chinese regime conduct an investigation into her allegations.
As for Bach, the lawmakers made two requests. First, the IOC president needs to arrange a video call between Peng and “a small set of journalists from independent international media outlets,” so that the tennis star has an opportunity to “speak out over the censorship levied against her and her story by Chinese authorities.”
The second request asks that Bach arrange a video call with the two lawmakers “as soon as possible.”
“Your video call with Peng shows that you can in fact use the power of your office to weigh in on a human rights concern inside China,” the lawmakers wrote.
“So we can hear from you directly about whether you will use the power of your office to address human rights concerns in China in the lead-up to the Beijing Winter Olympic Games.”
Beijing is scheduled to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in February.