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Activist criticized for questioning Chinese players at Australian Open about Peng Shuai’s whereabouts

peng shuai australian open
via Drew Pavlou

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    Before you read:

    Australian activist Drew Pavlou has sparked criticism on social media for confronting several Chinese tennis players competing at the 2023 Australian Open.

    Tennis up-and-comer Qinwen Zheng was preparing for her first-round match against Hungarian Dalma Galfi when a member of Pavlou’s team began questioning her about former world No. 1 doubles player Peng Shuai, an athlete many fear may be in danger.

    “My Hong Konger friend Presley saw the biggest young Chinese tennis star Qinwen Zheng at the Australian Open practice courts so she asked ‘Where Is Peng Shuai?’ in Mandarin. She was quiet and replied back ‘I don’t know.’ Sadly CCP censorship and fear continues,” Pavlou wrote.

    Peng made global headlines in Nov. 2021 when she vanished from social media following a sexual assault accusation she made against a former state leader on Weibo.

    She resurfaced over a month later in a video in which she claimed she never actually accused the official. She instead attributed the resulting uproar to a “huge misunderstanding.”

    Despite Peng’s retraction of her accusations, concerned parties, including the organizing body Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), have remained skeptical of Peng’s safety and freedom. 

    On Twitter, Pavlou posted video clips and images showing one of his team members asking the 20-year-old athlete about Peng’s whereabouts. 

    According to Pavlou, Qinwen went silent after being asked “Where Is Peng Shuai?” in Mandarin, before replying with, “I don’t know.”

    “We have the utmost respect for Qinwen Zheng who was very respectful and kind,” he wrote in a succeeding tweet. “Obviously she could not speak without fear for her family considering the nature of the CCP dictatorship, so the simple answer ‘we don’t know’ is significant in itself – Peng Shuai is still missing.”

    Pavlou’s team reportedly pulled the same stunt on several other Chinese tennis players, including world No. 87 Zhu Lin after her practice session. Pavlou noted that she gave a similarly indifferent response. 

    Pavlou’s post, however, earned criticism from other Twitter users who found his actions toward the athletes disrespectful and annoying.

    “So rude and annoying to disturb an athlete during her match,” one user wrote. “And imagine being proud of this smh.”

    “Drew you’re using up valuable people’s oxygen. Please stop that,” wrote another.

    “Really creepy behaviour,” another user commented. “Why are you of the view that she is personally responsible for the actions of the Chinese authorities?”

    Some highlighted the potential danger such a stunt could cause the targeted players.

    “Don’t you think you would draw unnecessary attention to this player? Your post and video might put her in danger,” one user commented. “Also if she were informed about Peng Shuai in anyway, why would she talk to random strangers while someone from CCP was probably nearby?”

    “This lowkey puts her in such an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous position,” wrote another. “People should not ask this to Chinese players imo for fear of inadvertently drawing undue attention from their gov’t.”

    Others simply saw Pavlou’s actions as a form of harassment.

    “So you’re now harassing a young girl, in a foreign country, to intimidate her. Ain’t you a shining example of western liberal values,” one user wrote. “Honest question, does it ever become tiring trying so pitifully hard to maintain relevancy?”

    “This is outright harassment at the very least… you family and kids if you have should be ashamed of your chauvinistic bullying,” another wrote.

    In response to the online criticisms, Pavlou doubled down on his stunts, claiming that he merely wanted to raise awareness about Peng.

    “What an utterly insane and feral article,” wrote Pavlou. “A young female Hong Konger asked Peng Shuai’s former team mates about her disappearance and somehow that is harassment??? No, sorry, we are simply raising awareness for a missing woman detained by the Chinese government.”

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