China must provide “verifiable evidence” that missing tennis player Peng Shuai is safe, the Foreign Office has said, after she appeared in a video released by state media.
Peng, a former Wimbledon doubles champion, is seen smiling and surrounded by friends in the seemingly new footage.
The video was posted on Twitter by Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of Global Times – the official newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party. He said it was taken today and showed Peng having dinner with her coach and friends in Beijing.
He earlier claimed Peng has been staying in her own home “freely” and would make a public turn up soon.
A spokesperson for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said the Government remained “extremely concerned” and were following the case closely.
They said: “The Chinese authorities should urgently provide verifiable evidence of her safety and whereabouts.
“Everyone should be allowed to speak out without fear of repercussions. All reports of sexual assault, anywhere in the world, should be investigated.”
Former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme the government should boycott the Winter Olympics.
He said the UK should “stand up” and make it clear to China that human rights abuses we unacceptable.
Head of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), Steve Simon, said although it is “positive to see her” in the video, it “remains unclear if she is free and able to make decisions and take actions on her own, without coercion or external interference”.
The organisation’s chairman and chief executive additional: “This video alone is insufficient… I keep concerned about Peng Shuai’s health and safety and that the allegation of sexual assault is being censored and swept under the rug.”
Peng, 35, disappeared after writing a social media post on 2 November accusing former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli of forcing her to have sex after playing tennis at his home.
Photos of Peng in the Beijing restaurant have also been released on social media, where she appears to be holding a glass of wine and making a ‘V for Victory’ sign.
In the video, Peng is seen sitting with a man and two woman but does not speak.
The man and one of the women make repeated references to the date, with the man saying: “Tomorrow is the 20th of November right?”
The woman corrects him by saying it would be 21 November, before the man discusses Peng’s recent performances and upcoming tournaments.
“We had two matches in the past,” he says. “But we were not happy with the results.
“The match tomorrow is the conclusion of the nine matches in the past three months.
“The end of November is the end of the year. We must try our best.”
Peng’s original post on Weibo has been taken down and neither Zhang Gaoli nor the Chinese government have commented on her allegation.
It comes as Boris Johnson is reportedly considering a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing next year in protest at China’s record on human rights.
An “active discussion” in government is current, with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said to be in favour of the boycott, the Times newspaper said.
The mystery surrounding the tennis champion took a new twist on Friday after photos emerged seemingly showing her relaxing at home, surrounded by soft toys and with a grey cat.
Experts have expressed scepticism and questioned the authenticity of the images.
Others also pointed to the presence in one of the photos of a framed picture featuring Winnie the Pooh – a character banned in China after people mockingly likened him to President Xi Jinping.
An email said to be from Peng was released on Wednesday by CGTN – the international arm of government-controlled state broadcaster CCTV – but doubts have also been raised over its authenticity.
It says the sexual assault claim “is not true” and adds: “I’m not missing, nor am I unsafe. I’ve just been resting at home and everything is fine”.
The White House and the United Nations have joined demands to establish the whereabouts and welfare of Peng.
Amid growing concern, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has threatened to pull tournaments out of China and the men’s ATP has demanded clarity from Chinese authorities.
Britain’s Andy Murray and the Lawn Tennis Association have joined an online campaign to help find Peng.
Other tennis stars including Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic are among those worried over her whereabouts.
World number one Djokovic said he supported “100%” the WTA’s threat to axe its China events.
He told reporters: “This is horrifying. I average, a person is missing.
“The whole community, tennis community needs to back her up and her family, make sure that she’s safe and sound because if you would have tournaments on Chinese soil without resolving this situation, it would be a little bit strange.”
Click: See details