South Korea culture minister grilled over arts blacklist

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South Korea’s Culture Minister Cho Yoon-Sun (C) arrives to be questioned at the office of the independent counsel on a corruption scandal case that led to the impeachment of President Park Geun-Hye in Seoul on January 17, 2017. South Korea’s culture minister Cho was questioned by prosecutors on January 17 over allegations that the government blacklisted thousands of artists for their political beliefs, the first incumbent cabinet minister to be formally interviewed in the scandal surrounding Park. / AFP PHOTO / YONHAP / STR / – South Korea OUT /

South Korea’s culture minister was questioned by prosecutors Tuesday over allegations that the government blacklisted thousands of artists for their political beliefs, the first incumbent cabinet minister to be formally interviewed in the scandal surrounding President Park Geun-Hye.

The summoning of Cho Yoon-Sun, one of Park’s staunch loyalists, indicates the probe will continue to reverberate through the government despite Park’s impeachment last month.

Cho and former presidential chief of staff Kim Ki-Choon were being questioned “as suspects”, prosecutors’ office spokesman Lee Kyu-Chul told journalists.

The list, of more than 9,000 artists in film, theatre, music and literature, reads like a Who’s Who of Seoul’s arts scene.

It was drawn up with the intent of starving many artists of government subsidies and place them under surveillance.

Among the names are novelist Han Kang, winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize, and “Oldboy” film director Park Chan-Wook, who won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2004.

It also includes artist Hong Sung-Dam, whose painting of the 2014 Sewol ferry sinking was withdrawn from South Korea’s largest contemporary art festival allegedly because of pressure from the presidential Blue House. The government has been criticised for its handling of the disaster, in which more than 300 people died.

“I will fully cooperate” in the probe,” Cho told reporters when she appeared at the prosecutors’ office. “I hope the truth will be revealed through the investigation.”

Cho, 50, issued a public apology last week “over the pain and suffering caused to the artists banned from state support because of their political or ideological leanings”.

But she flatly denied drawing it up. She has also been accused of committing perjury at a parliamentary hearing about her involvement.

A former culture minister and two other ex-officials have already been arrested for making and updating the blacklist.

The list sparked fury among local artists and opposition party lawmakers, with many describing it as reminiscent of the 1961-1979 rule of army-backed dictator Park Chung-Hee — Park’s father — when the news, arts and entertainment were heavily censored.

Park Geun-Hye was was impeached by parliament last month over an influence-peddling and abuse of power scandal.

The Constitutional Court is reviewing the impeachment, and if it upholds the move a presidential election must be held within two months.

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