The head of the group that runs women’s tennis worldwide has said he “remains deeply concerned” about Chinese player Peng Shuai, after she accused a powerful politician of sexual assault.
A spokesperson for the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) told the AFP news agency its chairman Steve Simon believes Peng’s responses to his emails to her were “clearly” influenced by others.
Peng reappeared last weekend after she had not been seen or heard from publicly since she said on social media on 2 November that former vice premier Zhang Gaoli had coerced her into having sex.
But, although Peng has been in contact with senior figures in world sport, Mr Simon was unconvinced she was free from “coercion”.
The WTA spokesperson told AFP the group’s chairman had “reached out to Peng Shuai via various communication channels. He has sent her two emails, to which it was clear her responses were influenced by others”.
But the spokesperson added: “He remains deeply concerned that Peng is not free from censorship or coercion and decided not to re-engage via email until he was satisfied her responses were her own, and not those of her censors.
“The WTA remains concerned about her ability to communicate freely, openly, and directly.”
The Associated Press has reported that Peng is just one of several people in China – activists and accusers alike – who have been removed from public view, charged with crimes or attacked online for speaking out about the treatment women in the country face.
The 35-year-old Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion was not seen for more than two weeks following her allegations that the former vice-premier, now in his 70s, forced her into sex during a years-long on-off relationship.
The stance of the WTA stands in contrast to some other sporting authorities, with human rights groups criticising the International Olympic Committee (IOC) of being complicit in China’s rights abuses ahead of the 2022 Beijing winter games.
IOC president Thomas Bach had a video call with Peng on Sunday but supporters say that at the time she may have been under political duress.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) China director Sophie Richardson said the IOC had shown a “remarkable lack of judgment” in its handling of the Peng case and “active complicity” in Beijing’s abuses.
She accused it of striving to keep the Games on track, rather than be concerned about the welfare of athletes and criticised Mr Bach for failing to make clear publicly whether he had asked Peng if she had access to a lawyer or wanted to file charges.
Last week, the IOC said it would “continue our open dialogue on all levels with the Olympic movement in China”.
HRW China researcher Yaqiu Wang, meanwhile, said the IOC had taken part in Beijing’s “government-created narrative”.
The UK, EU, United Nations and US have all called for proof of Peng’s whereabouts and well-being.
China has called on people to stop “hyping” Peng’s case.
Former US ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues Kelley Eckels Currie praised the WTA’s stance on Peng, saying it made it a human rights champion, even though it stood to lose money.
Up to 350 people trapped on roof as fire breaks out at Hong Kong’s World Trade Centre, police say | World News
Up to 350 people are trapped on the roof of Hong Kong’s World Trade Centre after a major fire broke out in the skyscraper, police have said.
The fire started to rip through the 38-story building, which houses both offices and a mall, in the bustling commercial and shopping district of Causeway Bay early on Wednesday afternoon.
At least one person has been injured and taken to hospital.
Police also said 150 people are currently awaiting rescue.
Other people were said to be trapped in restaurants in the mall, according to the local South China Morning Post newspaper.
The blaze was also upgraded to a level three incident on a scale of one to five.
Hong Kong’s government said firefighters were battling the fire with two water jets and had deployed breathing apparatus.
Firefighters also used an extendable ladder to rescue several people who were trapped on the lower floors of the building.
The emergency services cordoned off the area outside the building.
COVID-19: US coronavirus deaths top 800,000, with more than 25% coming after vaccines became available | US News
COVID-19 deaths in the United States have topped 800,000, with more than 25% of fatalities coming after vaccines became available earlier this year.
The number of deaths hit what President Joe Biden called a “tragic milestone” on Tuesday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
The overall death toll is roughly equal to the population of Atlanta and St Louis combined – or Minneapolis and Cleveland put together.
It is also roughly equivalent to how many Americans die each year from heart disease or stroke.
The US also has the highest reported toll of any country, accounting for approximately 4% of the world’s population but about 15% of the 5.3 million known deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
The true number of deaths in the US and around the world is believed to significantly higher because of cases that were overlooked or concealed.
A closely watched forecasting model from the University of Washington projects a total of more than 880,000 reported deaths in the US by March.
Mr Biden on Tuesday reiterated calls for unvaccinated Americans to get jabs for themselves and their children and urged the vaccinated to get booster shots.
He said: “I urge all Americans: do your patriotic duty to keep our country safe, to protect yourself and those around you, and to honour the memory of all those we have lost.
“Now is the time.”
Health experts also lamented the number of deaths, saying many were especially heartbreaking because they were preventable by way of the vaccine, which became available around a year ago and was thrown open to all adults by mid-April.
Around 200 million Americans are fully vaccinated – or just over 60% of the population, which is well short of what scientists say is needed to keep the virus in check.
“Almost all the people dying are now dying preventable deaths,” said Dr Chris Beyrer, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“And that’s because they’re not immunised. And you know that, God, it’s a terrible tragedy.”
When the vaccine was first rolled out, the country’s death toll stood at about 300,000. It hit 600,000 in mid-June and 700,000 on 1 October.
The US crossed the latest threshold with cases and hospitalisations on the rise again in a spike driven by the highly contagious Delta variant, which arrived in the first half of 2021 and now accounts for practically all infections.
Now the Omicron variant is gaining a foothold in the country.
Dr Beyrer recalled that in March or April 2020, one of the worst-case scenarios projected upwards of 240,000 American deaths.
“And I saw that number, and I thought that is incredible – 240,000 American deaths?” he said. “We’re now past three times that number.”
“I think it’s fair to say that we’re still not out of the woods.”
The Christians release Christmas single Naz Don’t Cry to support imprisoned Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe | UK News
An unusual contender for the Christmas No 1 is released today.
Thirty years ago the pop group The Christians released a song to support British hostage John McCarthy kidnapped for five years in Lebanon.
Today they rereleased a refashioned version of the song Man Don’t Cry to send a message of hope and support to British Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe currently being held against her will in Iran.
Singer Gary Christian says the plight of Nazanin and her husband Richard’s hunger strike outside the Foreign Office inspired the band to make the move.
He said: “When you see something like this you feel so impotent, you can’t do anything, you’re sitting there kind of in tears watching this and you think what can we do.”
The Christians invited Richard Ratcliffe and the couple’s daughter Gabriella to Liverpool to record the song retitled Naz Don’t Cry.
He’s urging people to buy it in solidarity with Nazanin and family. All proceeds go to charity.
“I hope people just, even if they don’t like the song, they don’t like me, the Christians or anything, forget that just download,” he says. “We want to raise money, we want to get Nazanin back, back home.”
The song is accompanied by a moving video featuring some of the more emotional moments of the five-year effort to get Nazanin home.
Former hostage John McCarthy told Sky News he welcomed the song being used again and said the video is a powerful watch.
“Looking at the video, it’s taken me back to seeing things after I came back,” he says.
“And you know it’s slow-moving seeing Richard out in Westminster Square on his hunger strike … it’s very powerful, you know. After a couple of viewings one is in tears.”
Nazanin is being held in Tehran against her will and faces being returned to jail on more trumped-up charges.
She was able to join the recording by video call to hear what’s being done in her name.
Her husband Richard told Sky News he hopes it helps raise her spirits.
“It’s a lovely song,” he says. “It’s a nice uplifting song. It’s a song that says don’t be sad, we’re still thinking of you, we’re still battling for you, your husband’s still going, there will be a tomorrow.”
The star of the video is Gabriella, Richard and Nazanin’s daughter, who appears to play the guitar and dreams as well as playing to the cameras.
Mr Ratcliffe said: “Coming up to Christmas she was asking yesterday when’s she coming back, and also why does it have to be my Mummy – and there are no easy answers to that.”
This will be Nazanin’s sixth Christmas apart from her family. Efforts to secure her release are not making progress.
Richard has now done two hunger strikes to highlight her plight.
Her family hope music might make a difference where diplomacy has so far failed.