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Celebrity muzzling in Korea dates back to Lee Myung-bak administration

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Updated : September 12 2017

In light of revelations that two previous administrations had blacklisted “leftist” cultural figures since 2009, investigators are expected to expand their probe to target the Lee Myung-bak administration as well.

A National Intelligence Service investigation on irregularities of past administrations on Monday turned up a blacklist of 82 figures in the culture and entertainment circles that was drawn up during the term of former President Lee.

It was revealed earlier in the year that former President Park Geun-hye had kept a blacklist of culture figures she deemed leftist or anti-government, in a shocking revelation that contributed to her downfall and incarceration.

Under President Moon Jae-in’s orders, the NIS has been investigating irregularities committed during past administrations, including blacklists.

The NIS’ report showed that the conservative administrations’ actions against cultural figures had deeper roots than previously thought. The committee recommended to the NIS that it officially request prosecutors to investigate the matter, while the prosecution vowed to take the case as soon as an official request is made.

“Because of these words, my beautiful 30s were wasted. My previous 10 years. ... To think my hard-earned tax money was used to kill me,” wrote actress Kim Gyu-ri on Instagram on Tuesday, after it was revealed Monday that her name was on the list. Her previous name Kim Min-seon -- she took up her current name Gyu-ri in 2010 -- was on the blacklist disclosed Monday.

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Won Sei-hoon, who headed the National Intelligence Service during the Lee Myung-bak administration and is believed to have created a blacklist of cultural figures, exits Seoul High Court on Aug. 30. (Yonhap)
She was an outspoken critic of Lee’s decision to allow the resumption of US beef imports in 2008 that sparked monthslong nationwide protests over health concerns.

Also featured on the list were actor and former politician Moon Sung-keun; political pundit Chin Joong-kwon; comedian Kim Mi-hwa; host Kim Je-dong; acclaimed directors Lee Chang-dong, Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho; singer Yoon Do-hyun and the late musician Shin Hae-chul.

Many of those whose names were on the list said that they had suspected the existence of such a list.

Lee Chang-dong, for example, has been lying dormant since the release of his critically claimed film “Poetry” in 2010. He recently announced that he would direct a new film tentatively titled “Burning.”

Moon Sung-keun told the local media that the report just confirmed what he suspected to be true.

“I’ve returned to the small screen for the first time in eight years. That shows that the blacklist is not confined to the Park administration,” he said. “We need to get to the bottom of how such violence on a governmental scale was carried out, so that it will never happen again.”

In addition to appearing in movies like “Unbowed” which is critical of the authorities, Moon had also been an acting leader of the Democratic United Party, a forerunner to the current ruling Democratic Party.

In July, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism launched a joint government-civilian committee to investigate the blacklist drawn up during the Park administration.

Artist Shin Hak-chul, joint chief of the committee who was included on Park’s blacklist, said he is mindful of the ballooning scandal.

“There is pressure on me, because I’m one of the people on the blacklist. But we do have to be fair in our probe, so that it will make sense to everyone,” he said.

By Yoon Min-sik (minsikyoon@heraldcorp.com)

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