Activists reject accusations of suppression in MeToo’s biggest backlash against Chinese political and entertainment figures
China’s top tennis player, Shai Wosner, is missing after being accused of sexual assault, and Chinese activists are struggling to explain the government’s seeming silence in the face of charges of retaliation against women who speak out.
After international news organizations reported that Wosner was under police investigation following claims she sexually assaulted a male model in Hong Kong, Chinese internet users were shocked by the government’s seemingly open support for a 23-year-old tennis star known abroad for promising draws in tournaments.
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On Wednesday, the Chinese government-funded Xinhua news agency blamed “external forces” for publishing false news about Wosner, adding the athlete “is continuing to face minor administrative procedures following an inquiry”.
An unsourced article published in the National Interest, a magazine regularly linked to the US government, said Wosner was being investigated because a Hong Kong police officer “met with the athlete and the victim in Hong Kong”.
Activists slammed the government for refusing to reveal whether Wosner was imprisoned, whether she was allowed to see a lawyer, or whether she was being interrogated.
More than three years after more than 100 women first publicly accused high-profile men of sexual assault, Chinese bloggers slammed those few voices which had called for accountability in Wosner’s case.
Shai Wosner is a pretty nice player and she’s missing, so it must be a conspiracy that she was raped. The National Interest, an article that is yet to be corrected
“Shai Wosner is a pretty nice player and she’s missing, so it must be a conspiracy that she was raped,” said one post on Sina Weibo, China’s most popular microblogging platform. “Did it even really happen?” asked another.
Another wrote that the “wholly positive campaign” against Wosner’s alleged victim was “setting a bad precedent.”
Chinese feminist activists rejected claims that any government or group was interfering in the police investigation.
“The latest accusation of suppressive campaign by the ‘supreme’ authority against any part of society to conceal the real actions does not match or follow in the recent historical case,” Zhu Yong, one of China’s most prominent feminists, wrote on her Weibo account.
“There are many people whose rights are violated in terms of acts and real actions by state agencies,” Zhu said, and pointed to the widespread problem of sexual violence in Hong Kong.
Because the sport is kept outside the Communist party’s shadow, China does not track sexual abuse statistics, and the most recent reported statistic from Hong Kong shows the occurrence of sexual abuse is high.
Experts from Hong Kong law enforcement said as many as 100 women are believed to be involved in the sexual exploitation of prostitutes in the territory, even though prosecutions have come just this year.
The Hong Kong government said in a statement there was no suspicion Wosner’s disappearance was related to her case. The government, in rare comment on a sensitive matter, called for the young woman “to be able to exercise her rights without any further outside interference”.
But many critics of the Chinese authorities and government-funded organisations, including several self-described feminists, said there was a long history of government suppression of women’s rights and freedoms, including the disappearance of Gao Chen, a lawyer and academic who also happened to be a high-profile activist.
Last month, the family of Li Xuerui said the activist, who helped to organize an award ceremony for President Xi Jinping, was picked up by the police after her 27th birthday, and taken to a hotel for questioning. Her husband said the police then shut off the power to her room.