Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai is reportedly missing after she accused a former high-ranking member of the ruling Chinese Communist Party of sexual abuse.
The former world number 14 accused Zhang Gaoli, the country's former senior vice premier, of forcing her to sleep with him in a post on Weibo, one of the few social media sites allowed in China.
Peng, 35, published a lengthy post on her account, which detailed the abuse she says she suffered at the hands of the now retired politician, 40 years her senior.
The post was deleted around 20 minutes after it first appeared, and all of her recent posts have been removed from the site.
Peng's account appeared to be disabled for a while, but it now appears in search engines – though comments appear to remain disabled on her posts.
The former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion, who also made her mark on the singles stage by reaching the 2014 US Open semi-final, has not been seen since, the Daily Mail reports.
This is believed to be the first such accusation publicly levelled at someone of such importance in China's ruling party.
State media in the Asian country has not mentioned the accusations, while a spokesperson for Beijing's foreign ministry denied all knowledge of the claims when asked about the subject.
"I have not heard of it and it is not a diplomatic question," he said.
In the post, Peng described that she and Zhang had been involved in an on-off affair dating back to 2011 in Tianjin, but he reportedly cut all ties with her when he had been promoted to the Politburo Standing Committee – China's top ruling council – the following year.
Then after retiring from politics in 2018, Peng said Zhang invited her for dinner with his wife, after which she has claimed he allegedly pressured her into sex.
Peng concluded her post: "I know that for someone of your stature, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, you have said you are not afraid. But even as an egg hurled at a rock, a moth to a flame for self-destruction, I will speak the truth about you."
She said that he had first coerced her after she visited his home to play tennis, adding: "That afternoon I didn't give my consent and couldn't stop crying. You brought me to your house and forced me and you to have relations."
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The former vice premier, who served in the post between 2013 and 2018, has not responded to her claims.
Referring to the allegations, New York-based Chinese activist Lu Pin said: "[The CCP] have always been rotten and decadent. They’ve always been exploiting women, but it’s only that it’s been done behind black curtains.
"Her revelation is very important, for it lets people get a glimpse of the real life of China’s highest leaders, their excessive abuse of power, corruption and their fear behind a moral façade wrapped in power."
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