S. Korean envoy to France grilled over Park censorship

Seoul (AFP) - South Korea's ambassador to France was grilled by investigators Thursday over allegations that the government blacklisted thousands of cultural figures deemed critical of impeached President Park Geun-Hye.

Ambassador Mo Chul-Min, who served as senior presidential secretary for education and culture from 2013 to 2014, returned home Wednesday following a summons from a special prosecutor probing a corruption scandal that led to Park's impeachment.

The summons came as former culture minister Yoo Jin-Ryong told a radio talk show this week that the presidential Blue House maintained a blacklist of prominent poets, novelists, painters and film makers.

The alleged list, which contained more than 9,400 names including this year's Man Booker International Prize winner Han Kang, was allegedly used to clamp down on left-leaning artists, prevent them from securing government subsidies and bar their creations from public display.

Yoo said he first saw the list in June 2014.

The Blue House has denied the existence of such a list.

Mo, one of the officials who allegedly delivered copies of the continually-updated list to the culture ministry, did not respond to journalists' questions as he met with prosecutors investigating a scandal that has seen Park charged with multiple violations -- ranging from bribery to abuse of power.

The alleged list also included artist Hong Sung-Dam whose painting depicting the tragic 2014 sinking of Sewol ferry had to be withdrawn from South Korea's largest contemporary art festival, the Gwangju Biennale, allegedly because of pressure from the Blue House, which was criticised for its handling of the disaster.

Critics say censorship, which was losing ground following the country's restoration of democracy in 1987, has crept back under Park, daughter of late dictator Park Chung-Hee.

In its latest World Press Freedom index published in April, the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked South Korea 70th in the world -- down 10 places from 2015.

Park is awaiting the Constitutional Court's ruling after the National Assembly voted to impeach her on December 9.

The court has up to six months from this date to decide whether to approve the impeachment.