A South Korean appellate court sentenced two former senior aides to impeached President Park Geun-hye to prison terms for keeping a secret blacklist of artists from the mainstream media. The ruling resulted in harsher punishments for former chief of staff Kim Ki-choon and former culture minister and presidential secretary for political affairs Cho Yoon-sun.
The Seoul High Court has raised the sentence of Kim to four years in jail, whereas he was sentenced to three years in the lower court. It also found Cho guilty of creating and managing the list, along with accomplice ex-President Park Geun-hye.
Cho was immediately arrested in the court after the court's decision. She had been serving presentence since February last year and was released in July after her term got suspended.
Previously, the Seoul Central District Court had released Cho on a one-year prison term suspended for two years as she was convicted only of perjury. Both Kim and Cho have been accused of abuse of power as well.
It is believed that they were the masterminds behind the blacklist which contained nearly 10,000 artists, writers and filmmakers. These people were allegedly unfriendly to the then government administration. Hence, they were denied state subsidies, removed from media jobs and put under state surveillance.
According to the court's ruling, this exclusion of selective artists from state support was against the laws of the Constitution and upheld discrimination for artistic or cultural expression.
"It is unprecedented that the president and her aides, who are at the top of the highest powers, organized, planned and carried out such discriminatory treatment," the court said, reports Korea Herald. "There is no right or wrong in culture ... once the government discriminates against those who think differently, it leads to totalitarianism."
The court also added that Cho's role in directing and approving the list is hard to conclude. However, it acknowledged that Park instructed Kim to draw up a list and report to her about the blacklist, which indicates a comprehensive approval by the president of the blacklist.
The blacklist came to the public eye in 2016, making it clear that it aimed at preventing artists from getting state benefits and private funding. Among them were people who had openly supported opposition parties or criticized the present government as well as the policies of Park's late dictator father, Park Chung Hee.
The list included 'left-leaning' names like novelist Han Kang, winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize and film director Park Chan-Wook, who received the 2004 Cannes Grand Prix.
Former South Korean President Park was impeached on December 9, 2016, after being charged with offenses related to influence peddling by her top aide Choi Soon-sil. The impeachment was upheld by the Constitutional Court via a unanimous 8-0 ruling.
Park was removed from office on March 10, 2017, and is currently being held under arrest at Seoul Detention Centre, where she is on trial.