First came the shocking #MeToo accusation by a famous athlete against one of China’s top leaders. Then came the accuser’s disappearance from public view, one so thorough that questions swirled about her health and personal safety.

The authorities in China had hoped the apparatus of a repressive state could simply make the whole thing go away. Instead, an accusation by tennis player Peng Shuai that she was sexually assaulted by a former vice premier, Zhang Gaoli, continues to confront the political establishment as few things have.

The latest pushback on China’s effort to squelch the accusation came early Thursday after Chinese state media tried to refute it, while saying Peng was safe and sound. It published an email purportedly written by Peng herself, saying the sexual assault accusations were not true and asking for officials who run women’s tennis to stop meddling.