NEW YORK—The now-acknowledged existence of a South Korean government-created “blacklist” of artists seen as critical of the Park Geun-hye administration, in connection with which several high-level government figures were recently arrested, represents an institutionalized threat against artistic expression in South Korea, PEN America said today in a statement.

On Saturday, January 21, South Korean Culture Minister Cho Yoon-Sun, who previously served as the presidential secretary for political affairs, was arrested in connection with her alleged involvement in creating a blacklist of more than 9,000 actors, theater directors, painters and musicians. Cho has since resigned. The Culture Minister had previously issued a public apology earlier in the month acknowledging the existence of such a blacklist, but had denied involvement. The former presidential chief of staff, Kim Ki-choon, was also arrested this month, as was former Culture Minister Kim Jong-deok.

The arrested government officials all served in the administration of President Park Geun-hye, who was impeached last month following a corruption scandal. President Park’s powers are currently suspended until South Korea’s Constitutional Court rules on her impeachment.

Blacklisted artists were allegedly to be excluded from receiving government support funds and private support, prevented from using state venues, and put under state surveillance. The blacklist apparently contains the names of various high-level cultural figures, including well-known and award-winning actors, directors, and writers.

On Monday, January 23, Vice Culture Minister Song Soo-keun offered an apology on behalf of the Culture Ministry, calling it “distressing and shameful” that the Ministry had “caused questions of fairness” with its blacklist.

“This artist blacklist, now acknowledged to exist, represents an institutional attempt to stifle artistic freedom within South Korea, to subject artists to a political litmus test, and to pursue political vendettas in the name of the State,” said James Tager, Free Expression Programs Manager at PEN America. “South Korean officials, especially within the Culture Ministry, will now need to take positive steps to ensure that South Korean artists feel safe to express themselves and their political beliefs without the fear of recrimination or blacklisting.”

As an organization of writers and literary professionals, PEN America consistently advocates against the existence of artist blacklists anywhere in the world, including within the United States. More recently, PEN America has expressed its concern over South Korea’s continued criminalization of defamation, noting that such a criminal statute can be used to chill free speech and press freedoms.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT
Sarah Edkins, Director of Communications: sedkins@pen.org, +1.646.779.4830