South Korea court jails ex-culture minister over artist blacklist

Former Culture Minister Cho Yoon Sun, a close aide of ousted president Park Geun Hye, arrives at Seoul High Court to attend a hearing of her appeals trial on the so-called blacklist case, in Seoul, on Jan 23, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL (AFP) - A South Korean appeals court on Tuesday (Jan 23) jailed former culture minister Cho Yoon Sun for two years for her role in drawing up a blacklist of 10,000 artists seen as critical of ousted president Park Geun Hye's government.

Cho had initially been acquitted in July and given only a suspended sentence on a minor related charge, prompting prosecutors to appeal.

The higher court in Seoul also extended the prison term of Park's ex-chief of staff Kim Ki Choon from three years to four.

Before becoming the culture minister in 2016 Cho was a policy advisor to Park, and the court said it was "reasonable" to believe she had collaborated in "attempts to stop state support for certain artists".

"It cannot be believed that the discussion and decision... to stop state subsidies were made without the order or endorsement of the accused," the court said in a statement.

Cho, who had been on bail, was immediately arrested in the courtroom.

The blacklist, whose existence emerged in 2016, was aimed at starving artists of state subsidies and private funding and placing them under state surveillance.

Many had voiced support for opposition parties, or had criticised Park and her policies or her late dictator father, Park Chung Hee.

The list, including artists in film, theatre, dance, music, fine arts and literature, reads like a Who's Who of Seoul's art scene.

It includes novelist Han Kang, winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize, and film director Park Chan Wook, whose "Oldboy" took the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2004.

Park was impeached last year over a major corruption and influence-peddling scandal that rocked the nation, and is currently on trial separately.

On Tuesday the appeals court also found her former chief of staff Kim guilty of forcing senior culture ministry officials to resign for voicing opposition to the blacklist - a charge earlier rejected by the lower court.

Another former culture minister, a former deputy culture minister and two other ex-advisors to Park were given jail terms ranging from 18 months to two years for their roles in creating and enforcing the blacklist.

"It is unprecedented that the nation's top leadership... committed such illegal action to discriminate against or stop state subsidy to individuals or groups that voiced criticisms on the government, in such a systematic fashion and for such a long time," the court said.

Park herself was also responsible for endorsing the overall system of cracking down on the artists after being briefed about operations involving the blacklist multiple times, it added.

Park has denied involvement in the blacklist, along with other charges she faces in her ongoing corruption trial.

The existence of the blacklist sent shivers across the country's vibrant cultural and entertainment scene, whose TV dramas, films and stars have taken Asia by storm in the past decade.

Artists say it took a heavy toll on freedom of expression in Asia's fourth-largest economy.

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