The International Olympic Committee is under fresh fire over its handling of the Peng Shuai situation in China, as an awkward photo of IOC boss Thomas Bach and Peng's alleged attack resurfaced on Tuesday.
Foreign governments and rights advocates have stepped up criticism of China's human rights practices after Peng disappeared for nearly three weeks after alleging that China's former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her.
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China's foreign ministry has urged "certain people" to stop the "malicious hyping" and "politicisation" of the issue.
However the United Nations Human Rights Office (UN HRO) has reiterated calls for Chinese authorities to fully review Peng's allegations, with spokesperson Marta Hurtado saying officials should carry out a 'transparent' investigation.
Peng re-appeared over the weekend in Beijing and held a video call with Bach on Sunday.
But the Women's Tennis Association and top current and former tennis players have called for reassurance that Peng is safe, and rights groups have labelled efforts by Chinese state media to allay concerns about her well-being as unconvincing.
HRW's China director Sophie Richardson told a news briefing on Tuesday the IOC had shown a "remarkable lack of judgement" in its handling of the Peng case and "active complicity" in Beijing's abuses.
She said its interest seemed to be in keeping the 2022 Winter Olympics on track, not the welfare of athletes.
She criticised Bach for failing to make clear publicly whether he had asked Peng if she had access to a lawyer or wanted to file charges around serious sexual assault claims, and encouraged governments to boycott diplomatically the Beijing Games, set for February.
"The IOC has shown in the last few days just how desperate it is to keep the Games on the rails, no matter the human costs," Richardson said, while also slamming corporate sponsors of the Games for staying silent on Peng.
On Tuesday, Bach came under fresh fire after an awkward photo re-surfaced of himself with Peng's alleged attacker Zhang.
The image from 2016 went viral on social media, with British tennis player Liam Broady writing: “Laugh out loud - I think we now see why the IOC have taken the stance they have.”
American player Tennys Sandgren wrote: “China is the alcoholic stepdad of human rights abusers.
“We know plenty worse things than what’s happening to Peng, yet they are hosting the Olympics in a couple weeks. We legitimise them.”
Fresh concerns over Peng Shuai's video call with IOC
Amnesty International's China researcher Alkan Akad said the video call between Bach and Zhang did little to ease fears over Peng's wellbeing and the IOC was entering "dangerous waters".
A WTA spokesperson said: "It was good to see Peng Shuai in recent videos, but they don't alleviate or address the WTA's concern about her well-being and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion.
"This video does not change our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern."
The IOC said in a statement that Peng held a 30-minute call with Bach on Sunday and thanked the Olympic organisation for its concern.
"She explained that she is safe and well, living at her home in Beijing, but would like to have her privacy respected at this time," the IOC's statement said.
"That is why she prefers to spend her time with friends and family right now.
"Nevertheless, she will continue to be involved in tennis, the sport she loves so much."
On November 2, Peng posted on Chinese social media that Zhang had coerced her into sex and they later had an on-off consensual relationship.
The post was quickly deleted and the topic has been blocked from discussion on China's heavily censored internet.
Neither Zhang nor the Chinese government have commented on Peng's allegations.
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