South Korea minister resigns after arrest over arts blacklist

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This picture taken on January 20, 2017 shows South Korea’s Culture Minister Cho Yoon-Sun (C) arriving at court for a hearing to review the issuing of her arrest warrant at the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul. South Korea’s culture minister was arrested on January 21 for allegedly creating a “blacklist” of nearly 10,000 artists who voiced criticism of impeached President Park Geun-Hye. JUNG Yeon-Je / AFP

South Korea’s culture minister resigned after being arrested Saturday for allegedly creating a “blacklist” of nearly 10,000 artists who voiced criticism of impeached President Park Geun-Hye.

Cho Yoon-Sun, who is the first minister in active service to be arrested in South Korea, is accused of creating the vast catalogue to starve the artists of government subsidies and private investments and place them under state surveillance.

The list’s existence has sparked widespread anger, raising the spectre of Seoul’s 1960-80s army-backed rule — including under dictator Park Chung-Hee, the impeached leader’s late father — when the news, arts and entertainment were heavily censored.

Shortly after her arrest, Cho tendered her resignation to Prime minister Hwang Kyo-Ahn, a spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office said.

An earlier report by Yonhap news agency said Hwang had accepted Cho’s resignation but the spokesman said no decision had been made yet.

“The prime minister is now considering her offer to step down”, the spokesman told AFP.

The Seoul Central District Court had issued a warrant to arrest Cho on charges of abuse of authority and perjury following a request from prosecutors.

Cho, 50, known as “Park’s Cinderella”, is a staunch loyalist of the impeached president and previously served as the minister for gender equality.

The court also issued an arrest warrant for Kim Ki-Choon, a powerful former chief of staff for Park. Kim is accused of ordering Cho to create the list of “left-leaning” artists.

Kim, 78, a former top intelligence official, came under fire for his alleged involvement in human rights abuses committed under Park’s father.

“Charges are verified… and there are risks of the accused seeking to destroy evidence”, a court judge said in a statement issuing the warrants for Cho and Kim.

Some Korean media reports have alleged that Park asked for the blacklist to be drawn up, while others said she approved it.

Prosecutors questioned Cho and Kim as part of their probe into a wider political scandal involving Park and her secret confidante, Choi Soon-Sil, who is currently on trial for abuse of power and coercion.

Park stands accused of colluding with Choi to coerce top local firms including Samsung to “donate” nearly $70 million to non-profit foundations Choi later used for personal gain.

She is also accused of letting Choi, who has no title or security clearance, meddle in a wide range of state affairs including nomination of senior officials.

Park was impeached by parliament last month and Seoul’s Constitutional Court is currently reviewing the validity of the motion, with the frequency of hearings sparking speculation that it might reach a verdict before mid-March.

– Big names blacklisted –

The scandal has seen a number of former senior officials and presidential aides arrested.

But the Seoul Central District Court this week rejected a prosecution request for the arrest of Samsung heir Lee Jae-Yong — who is accused of bribing Choi in a bid to seek governmental favours — citing lack of evidence.

The blacklist of artists in film, theatre, music, fine arts and literature reads like a Who’s Who of Seoul’s art scene.

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 the Cannes film festival in 2004.

Many artists on the list had voiced support for opposition parties, or criticised or satirised the administration of Park or of her late father, who ruled from 1961 to 1979.

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