Updated: November 22, 2021 04:02 AM GMT
A handout photo posted on the International Olympic Committee website on Nov. 21 shows IOC president Thomas Bach holding a video call with Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai as international pressure mounted for information about her well-being. (Photo: Greg Martin/OIS/IOC/AFP)
Ever since I was a teenager, I had three loves: tennis, China and human rights.
I used to play tennis regularly with my father. My goal was to beat him before he turned 70, and then before he turned 80. I failed. I took a set or two off him in some games when he was in his eighties, but he came back to win the next set and the match. He died last year, aged 95, undefeated by me on the tennis court.
As a university undergraduate, I spent several summers working at Wimbledon during the tennis championships. I wasn’t a ball-boy but a shop assistant in the gift shop within the All England Club. I recall serving Gabriela Sabatini — not on court but across the counter — and the actor Jack Nicholson. In my breaks, I went to the outer courts — and sometimes to Centre Court — to watch the matches.
At the age of 18, I travelled to China to teach English in Qingdao. I fell in love with the country, its people and culture, but of course not its criminal Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime.
And as a student, I discovered the absolute importance of freedom, human dignity and human rights, values which as a human being and a Christian I am compelled to defend, for everyone, everywhere.
Over the course of my adult life, almost all of which has been devoted to the defense of human liberty, I have become accustomed to hearing about the arrest, detention, torture, disappearance and even assassination of kindred spirits. At least two friends of mine — one in Pakistan, another in Myanmar — have been murdered for their political stance, while countless others have been threatened. Most of my friends in Hong Kong and Myanmar are now in jail, on trial or in exile.
But as we continue to speak out for Peng, let us not think that this is an isolated case. Indeed, it is just the latest in a litany of disappearances
So, with this background, it was heartbreaking to hear of the disappearance of China’s tennis star Peng Shuai, who recently accused a senior CCP official of sexual assault. The fact that — apparently, as things stand now — it is Peng who is being silenced by the regime, rather than the perpetrator being brought to justice, is frightening. As a tennis fan who loves China and believes in human rights, I join others throughout the world in crying out: #WhereIsPengShuai? And I want to ask the regime in Beijing #WhatHasPengDone and to urge it to #FreePengShuai.
In the past few days, the CCP’s crude, cruel, clownish, criminal regime released a supposed email allegedly written by Peng indicating she is fine, a video of her having dinner with her team and another video of her playing tennis yesterday. These look scripted, staged and unreal.
Until there is — as the UK government has said — truly verifiable evidence of her safety, well-being and freedom, we must continue to speak out. It is heartening that major tennis stars from around the world, of different generations, from Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka to Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, are doing so. The Women’s Tennis Association and Wimbledon’s All England Lawn Tennis Club have expressed concern. Perhaps the only sporting body that is conspicuous by its silence is the International Olympic Committee, which shamefully granted the 2022 Winter Olympics to Beijing despite China’s appalling human rights record.
But as we continue to speak out for Peng, let us not think that this is an isolated case. Indeed, it is just the latest in a litany of disappearances.
Chinese actress Fan Bingbing disappeared for four months in 2018, actress Zhao Wei disappeared in August this year, and billionaire Jack Ma went missing from public view late last year. Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng has been missing now for four years, while Chinese-born Swedish national Gui Minhai, one of the Hong Kong book sellers, was abducted from Thailand and is now in jail in China. Citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, who tried to report on the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan, is in a dangerous condition in prison.
So, while we rightly ask #WhereIsPengShuai, we must also ask #WhereIsGaoZhisheng and demand #FreeGuiMinhai, #FreeZhangZhan and every other political prisoner and prisoner of conscience, known and unknown, in captivity in China today.
We must remember that this is a regime that takes hostages, as it did with the two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, and that disappears people frequently. Indeed, a book by Safeguard Defenders titled The People’s Republic of the Disappeared documents the practice.
Increasingly, I feel a personal affinity with people like Peng, Gui, Gao and the others. Beijing’s bully-boy tactics are not confined to its own borders. Of course, nothing I have ever experienced remotely compares to their ordeal. I am safe and free. But in October 2017 I was denied entry to Hong Kong, and over the past four years I have endured a low-level campaign of intimidation and harassment from Beijing’s thugs.
The CCP regime operates like a mafia gang — kidnapping, extorting, terrorizing and fear-mongering
It amounts to nothing by comparison with those who are disappeared, jailed, tortured, raped or abused, but it gives me a taste of how this regime operates. Letters to my home, letters to my neighbors, letters to my mother, emails to members of parliament asking them to silence me, and other attempts to intimidate me.
Last week in Vancouver there was an anonymous message with an implicit threat indicating knowledge of where I would be staying. I had to change accommodation, not so much for my own safety as for the security of those I would be meeting.
The CCP regime operates like a mafia gang — kidnapping, extorting, terrorizing and fear-mongering. If we do not stand up to it, it won’t only be Chinese tennis stars, lawyers, publishers and business people who disappear. Our own interests, values and freedoms will increasingly be threatened.
Foreign investors in China need to ask themselves whether it is safe to do business in China. Governments must ask themselves whether they can trust Beijing to keep its word in international agreements. Its track record of breaking treaties — notably the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong — is clear.
It must now face consequences for its reckless criminal conduct. A regime that abducts athletes is not one fit to host the Olympics. We should boycott Beijing 2022, impose tough, targeted sanctions on the regime and its officials responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and other grave human rights violations, and divest from pension funds which invest in bloodstained Chinese corporations. And we must not stop demanding the release of Peng Shuai and every other person disappeared in China today.
* Benedict Rogers is the co-founder and chief executive of Hong Kong Watch, deputy chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, senior analyst for East Asia at CSW, an adviser to the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) and an adviser to the Stop Uyghur Genocide Campaign. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.
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