Peng Shuai: Australian Open criticized for stopping protests

Protesters unrolled a banner reading “Where Is Peng Shuai” during the match between Chinese Wang Qiang and American Madison Keys, and one of the protesters also wore a T-shirt with the same slogan in support of Peng.

Security guards at the Australian Open on Friday put an end to the protest, according to Max Mok, who was one of three people involved in the rally.

Mok told CNN that security guards initially confiscated the banner citing a tournament ban on political paraphernalia. The guards told the protesters that they could stay if they covered their shirts, but they would not return the banner.

CNN learned that the confiscation took place away from the pitch where Wang and Keys were playing, with the trio leaving the Melbourne Park tournament venue with the banner, Mok said.

“I find it really, really cowardly. This is not a political statement, this is a human rights statement,” retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova told the Tennis channelin response to the organizers who put an end to the protest.

Tennis player Nicolas Mahut also accused the organizers of bowing to outside pressure.

“What is going on?” HEY tweeted. “What a lack of courage! What if I don’t have Chinese sponsors?”

One of the three “associate partners” of the Australian Open is liquor company Luzhou Laojiao, which organizers say was the largest Chinese sponsorship deal in tournament history when the sponsorship deal was announced in 2018.

“We are delighted to welcome Luzhou Laojiao to the Australian Open partner family, a significant event in our organization’s history,” Richard Heaselgrave, Chief Revenue Officer of Tennis Australia.

“We have made no secret of the fact that China and the region are a top priority for the Australian Open and that we take our role as the Asia-Pacific Grand Slam seriously.”

Tennis Australia has not yet responded to CNN’s request for comment on handling the protest.

CNN Affiliate Channel 7 reported a response from the tournament organizer on Saturday that said, “Under our conditions of entry for tickets, no commercial or political clothes, banners or signs are allowed.”

He added: “Peng Shuai’s safety is our primary concern. We continue to work with the WTA and the global tennis community to seek clarity on his situation and will do everything possible to ensure his well-being.”

Last November, Peng feared she was being held in solitary confinement by the Chinese government after accusing retired Deputy Prime Minister Zhang Gaoli of forcing her into sex during a casual affair lasting years.

Peng later denied filing the sexual assault complaint. The Women’s Tennis Association continued to demand a thorough and transparent investigation into Peng’s allegations and suspended all tournaments in China for her safety.

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