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South Korea culture minister arrested over arts blacklist

Cho Yoon-Sun is accused of creating the vast catalogue to starve the artists of government subsidies and private investments and place them under state surveillance.

SEOUL: South Korea's culture minister was arrested on Saturday (Jan 21) for allegedly creating a "blacklist" of nearly 10,000 artists who voiced criticism of impeached President Park Geun-Hye, the Yonhap news agency said.

Cho Yoon-sun is accused of creating the vast catalogue to starve the artists of government subsidies and private investments and place them under state surveillance.

Its 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 father - when the news, arts and entertainment were heavily censored.

The Seoul Central District Court issued a warrant to arrest Cho on charges of abuse of authority and perjury after a request from prosecutors, Yonhap said.

It also issued an arrest warrant for Kim Ki-choon, a powerful former chief of staff for the conservative president, accused of ordering Cho to create the list of "left-leaning" artists.

Some Korean media reports have alleged that Park asked for it 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 US$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.

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

But the same 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.