S. Korea minister quits after arrest over arts blacklist

Ms Cho, a supporter of President Park, is said to have created the blacklist to penalise artists and censor content.
Ms Cho, a supporter of President Park, is said to have created the blacklist to penalise artists and censor content.

SEOUL • South Korea's Culture Minister resigned yesterday after her arrest over allegedly creating a "blacklist" of nearly 10,000 artists who voiced criticism of impeached President Park Geun Hye.

Ms Cho Yoon Sun, 50, the first sitting minister to be arrested, 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 has sparked widespread anger, raising the spectre of Seoul's army-backed rule in the 1960s to 1980s - including under dictator Park Chung Hee, Ms Park's late father - when the news, arts and entertainment were heavily censored.

Ms Cho has said many times that she has heard reports of such a list but that she had nothing to do with it.

Shortly after her arrest, she 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 Mr Hwang had accepted Ms Cho's resignation but the spokesman said no decision had been made yet, adding: "The Prime Minister is now considering her offer to step down."

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

Faced with a spreading political crisis, the government and state entities used the blacklist as "guidelines" to penalise artists and censor content, the special prosecutor's office told reporters last week.

Ms Cho, popularly known as "Park's Cinderella", is a staunch loyalist of the President and had previously served as gender equality minister.

The court also issued an arrest warrant for Mr Kim Ki Choon, a powerful former chief of staff for Ms Park.

Mr Kim, 78, also a former top intelligence official, is accused of ordering Ms Cho to create the list of "left-leaning" artists.

"Charges are verified... and there are risks of the accused seeking to destroy evidence," a judge said in a statement issuing the warrants for both Ms Cho and Mr Kim.

Some Korean media reports have alleged that Ms Park had asked for the blacklist, and others said she approved it.

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

Ms Park stands accused of colluding with Choi to coerce top local firms including Samsung to "donate" nearly US$70 million (S$99 million) to non-profit foundations Choi later used for personal gain.

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

The blacklist of artists in film, theatre, music, fine arts and literature reads like a Who's Who of Seoul's arts scene. Among them 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 Ms Park or of her late father, who ruled from 1961 to 1979.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 22, 2017, with the headline 'S. Korea minister quits after arrest over arts blacklist'. Print Edition | Subscribe