By Ben Church, CNN
One of China’s most recognizable sports stars, Peng publicly accused a former top Communist Party official, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, of coercing her into sex at his home three years ago in a since-deleted social media post dated November 2.
Peng was immediately muffled by blanket censorship and disappeared from public view for more than two weeks.
The IOC says it has held two calls with Peng.
According to the Olympic organization, its president, Thomas Bach, held a 30-minute video call with three-time Olympian Peng, alongside a Chinese sports official and an additional IOC representative on November 21.
On Wednesday, the IOC held a second call with Peng and said that the Chinese tennis star “reconfirmed” that she was safe and well given the “difficult situation” she is in.
“The practice of stage-managed appearances is most often referred to as forced televised confessions, though recently PRC [People’s Republic of China] police will more often resort to posting such videos on their social media channels or have newspapers carry them on their websites,” wrote Dahlin in an open letter to the IOC on Thursday.
“The purpose remains the same: to either attack the person her — or himself — or to counter international criticism.”
The IOC was not immediately available for comment when CNN asked about Dahlin’s open letter.
Dahlin is the director of human rights NGO Safeguard Defenders. The open letter was published as an op-ed by Dahlin and not Safeguard Defenders, explained the human rights activist.
IOC defends itself
Dahlin said the video call with the IOC, which has not been made public, bore similarities to when he was forced to apologize to the Chinese government on state television in 2016 after China accused him of working for an illegal organization that sponsored activities that jeopardized China’s national security.
The IOC told CNN that it wasn’t providing any visual asset of Wednesday’s second video call with Peng amid growing skepticism about how freely she has been allowed to communicate, as well as concern for her safety.
Long-time IOC member Dick Pound recently told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that he was “puzzled” by the reaction to the video call between Peng and Bach in November.
“Basically, lots of people around the world were looking to see what happened to Peng Shuai and nobody was able to establish contact,” he said.
“Only the IOC was able to do so, and there was a conversation that was held by video with Thomas Bach, who’s an older Olympian, and two younger female IOC members. Nobody’s released the video because I guess that aspect of it was private.
“They found her in good health and in good spirits and they saw no evidence of confinement or anything like that.”
Pound added that he has not seen a recording of the video call, but is “simply relying on the combined judgment of the three IOC members who were on the call.”
WTA takes strong stance
“Peng is not free. You know — or should know — that she is not free,” Dahlin added.
“At every development of international criticism, like clockwork, Peng has either magically appeared or someone has provided something claiming to be from her to counter such criticism.”
Dahlin accused the IOC of allowing itself to be used by the Chinese government and urged it to instead follow in the footsteps of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) which announced an immediate suspension of all tournaments in China, including Hong Kong, in response to Beijing’s silencing of the sexual assault allegations.
On Thursday, a WTA spokeswoman told CNN it had received a new email from Peng.
According to the WTA, this is the third email its had from Peng.
Citing a “confirmed source” in a Twitter post Thursday, Chinese state media-affiliated reporter Shen Shiwei said that the email from Shuai “expressed her shock for WTA’s unfair decision to suspend all tournaments in China.”
Reacting to this latest email, a WTA spokeswoman said that the organization stands by its decision to suspend tournaments in China.
In a statement on Thursday, the IOC said it was confident in its approach and handling of the situation.
“We are using “quiet diplomacy” which, given the circumstances and based on the experience of governments and other organisations, is indicated to be the most promising way to proceed effectively in such humanitarian matters,” the statement read.
However, Dahlin has urged the IOC to change its stance and said that “quiet diplomacy may have its place, but it is not here.”
He added: “And you yourself obviously do not believe in it, because if you did, why are you hyping these video calls with Peng — especially since you refuse to release them. Is someone perhaps telling you that you cannot release them?
“At the very least educate yourself on the issue of enforced disappearance and stage-managed confessions and appearances.”
Chinese authorities have not acknowledged Peng’s allegations against Zhang and there is no indication an investigation is underway.
Zhang has kept a low profile and faded from public life since his retirement in 2018, and there is no public information relating to his current whereabouts.
Before retiring as vice premier, Zhang was the head of a Chinese government working group for the Beijing Games. In the role, he inspected venues, visited athletes, unveiled official emblems and held meetings to coordinate preparation work.
Zhang previously met with IOC President Bach on at least one occasion, with the two being photographed together shaking hands in the Chinese capital in 2016.
It remains unclear if Peng has reported her allegations to the police.
And at a news conference on Thursday, responding to a question about the WTA’s withdrawal, a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said “China has always been firmly opposed to any act that politicizes sports.”
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CNN’s Amy Woodyatt, Steve George and Nectar Gan contributed reporting.