Activists wearing Peng Shuai t-shirts arrested and searched at Wimbledon
LONDON — Four activists wearing “Where’s Peng Shuai?” The T-shirts were stopped by security at Wimbledon on Monday and their bags were searched.
Peng is a retired professional tennis player from China who accused a former high-ranking member of the country’s ruling Communist Party of sexual assault last year. She has made very few public appearances since then.
A similar episode happened to someone wearing a T-shirt supporting Peng at this year’s Australian Open. A spectator in Melbourne was ejected from the field, but the tournament later reversed its decision and allowed people to wear the clothes as long as they did not gather in large groups or cause problems for other spectators.
Jason Leith of the Free Tibet organization said he and his three colleagues donned the white T-shirts after entering the All England Club grounds on Monday.
“We didn’t have them when we arrived because we were worried we wouldn’t be let in. So we put them on and we were walking around and a few people wanted selfies with us so we were taking pictures with people,” says Leith, who is British.
Security arrived soon after when the four men walked under the big screen at the Henman Hill base, Leith said.
“[They] started asking, ‘Are you planning to demonstrate directly? Do you plan to disrupt things? “, Leith said. “And then they asked, ‘Oh, do you mind coming here so we can search your bags?’
“So they started going through our bags. I guess they were looking for flags. They were looking for anything that could be used in any other form of protest.”
The men were allowed to remain at the grass-court Grand Slam and continue to wear the shirts, but were asked not to approach other spectators to talk about Peng, Leith said.
“It’s a bit strange. Why aren’t we allowed to talk to people? said Leith, head of revenue and engagement at Free Tibet.
Wimbledon organizers said activists were welcome to stay put.
All England Club CEO Sally Bolton said on the first day of the tournament that a spectator wearing a shirt mentioning Peng would be allowed to attend.
“We have floor access rules, and those floor access rules are really about the quiet enjoyment of tennis for everyone,” Bolton said. “So it’s not about what people wear, it’s about how people behave.”
Peng disappeared from public view last year after accusing former Communist Party official Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. His accusation was quickly scrubbed from the internet and his discussion remains heavily censored.
Peng has won two Grand Slam women’s doubles titles in her career, including at Wimbledon in 2013.
The women’s professional tennis circuit has canceled its tournaments in China due to the situation around Peng.
Last year, Leith was arrested in Greece for disrupting the Olympic torch ceremony. The flame was heading to China ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.