LONDON – Four activists carry ‘Where is Peng Shuai?” T-shirts were stopped by security guards and their bags searched at Wimbledon on Monday.
Peng is a retired tennis pro from China who last year accused a former high-ranking member of the country’s ruling Communist Party of sexual assault. Since then, she has made few public appearances.
A similar episode happened to someone who wore a t-shirt supporting Peng at this year’s Australian Open. A spectator in Melbourne was removed from the site, but the tournament later reversed its decision and allowed people to wear the clothes as long as they didn’t gather in large groups or cause problems for other spectators.
Free Tibet’s Jason Leith said he and his three colleagues donned the white T-shirts after entering the grounds of the All England Club on Monday.
“We weren’t wearing these when we came in because we were worried about not being let in. So we put them on and just walked around and a few people wanted to take selfies with us, so we took pictures with others,” said Leith, who is British.
Security arrived a short time later as the four men were walking under the big screen at the base of Henman Hill, Leith said.
“[They] started asking, “Are you planning to protest directly? Are you planning on disrupting things?’” Leith said. “And then they said, ‘Oh, do you mind coming over here so we can search your bags?’
“So they started going through our bags. I guess they were looking for flags. They looked for anything that could be used for other forms of protest.”
The men were allowed to remain at the grass court grand slam and continue to wear the jerseys, but were asked not to approach other spectators to talk about Peng, Leith said.
“That’s a bit strange. Why can’t we talk to people?” said Leith, director of revenue and engagement at Free Tibet.
Wimbledon organizers said activists were welcome to stay on site.
All England Club CEO Sally Bolton said on day one of the tournament that a spectator wearing a shirt that mentions Peng will be allowed to attend.
“We have ground entry rules, and these ground entry rules are really focused on allowing everyone to enjoy tennis in peace,” Bolton said. “So it’s not about what people wear, it’s about how people act.”
Peng disappeared from public view last year after accusing former Communist Party official Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. Her allegation was quickly erased from the internet, and discussion of it remains heavily censored.
Peng has won two women’s doubles Grand Slam titles in her career, including Wimbledon in 2013.
The women’s professional tennis tour has canceled its tournaments in China due to the situation surrounding Peng.
Last year, Leith was arrested in Greece for disrupting the Olympic flame ceremony. The flame aimed at China ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.