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Blacklist punishments

July 28,2017
The Seoul Central District Court on Thursday found Kim Ki-choon, former chief of staff in the Park Geun-hye administration, guilty of abuse of power. The lower court’s ruling means that his act of drawing up a so-called blacklist of anti-Park artists and writers to discriminate against them in doling out government subsidies cannot be justified, no matter what.

The court delivered the same verdict to Kim Sang-ryul, presidential secretary for education and culture, and Kim Jong-deok, former minister of culture, sports and tourism, based on the judgment that they received illegitimate orders from the chief of staff and applied biased standards to writers, artists and other cultural figures. The court has reached the conclusion that the former chief of staff’s act of forcing such unfair standards onto his subordinates clearly constitutes abuse of power.

The court rejected Kim’s argument that he had never seen the list. Despite his last-minute appeal, the court sternly held him accountable for his unfettered abuse of power when serving as “king chief of staff” at the Blue House.

The biggest issue in the trial was whether the court could accept Kim’s actions as a type of power abuse. The abuse of power charges in this case can apply when a government official orders subordinates to do what they shouldn’t do or when a civil servant obstructs them from exercising their due rights. The judge believed that those defendants abused their enormous power — as chief of staff, presidential secretary and minister — to discriminate against specific artists and writers and order civil servants under their jurisdiction to deny them subsidies.

The court’s decision has sparked a new point of contention: how much of the government’s discriminatory treatment of artists and other groups constitutes an act subject to judicial punishment? The judge believed that if a government selectively favors — or discriminates against — artists and writers according to their political stances, it deserves punishment. The court declared that depriving them of government subsidies violates our Constitution as it denies them the right to not be discriminated against for their political views.

Past administrations also committed such violations even though they fortunately stopped short of making an actual blacklist. It was a routine practice for them to increase or decrease subsidies based on recipients’ political leanings. After the ruling by the court, the government should establish transparent guidelines for subsidies in the future.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 28, Page 30