Weekly Brief: Oct. 10th – 16th

News

Blacklist of artists surfaces

The president’s office has blacklisted nearly 10,000 singers, authors, directors and other artists. The reason? They’ve either signed a petition criticizing the government’s response to the 2014 Sewol disaster or supported two opposition politicians, both of whom are likely to run in the next presidential election.

Rumors of such a blacklist have been around since May of last year, but now the full list is out in public (Korean). Those on the list cannot receive government support or have their work featured in competitions backed by the government. Seoul mayor Park Won-soon, one of those opposition candidates, pointed out the contrast between Bob Dylan receiving a Nobel Prize for his work opposing government policies in the U.S., and local artists who are under government sanctions.

Women protest abortion laws

Earlier this month, women in Poland made headlines worldwide for the “black protests.” In a similar spirit, women in Seoul took to the streets last weekend, protesting the government’s attempts to toughen anti-abortion laws. The new revisions propose to extend penalties against doctors performing illegal abortions.

Under the new law, their business licenses would be suspended for one year, from the previous one month. Doctors’ organizations oppose the proposed change, but simultaneously vow to boycott abortions altogether if the law passes. Critics say doctors are primarily concerned about their own interests. Neither they nor the politicians are highlighting the voices of those directly affected: women. Under the already strict restrictions on abortion, only 5 percent of the roughly 200,000 abortions performed each year in South Korea are legal.

South Korea’s new party pooper: Anti-corruption law

Government employees, teachers and journalists targeted by the anti-corruption law are still unclear of what is or isn’t allowed. Hagwons are teaching people how to cash in by catching officials violating the law. Meanwhile, the largest immediate effect appears to be on the entertainment industry.

Businesses spent roughly $9 billion USD last year on buying favors from officials and journalists through lavish dinners and expensive outings, a practice that (until now) has been key for smooth operation. Treating officials in this manner often includes trips to “room salons” (essentially classy brothels), and while it’s still too early to say, the anti-corruption law may have a knock-on effect of shrinking the sex industry, something all the government crackdowns have utterly failed to do.

Movie critical of gov’t opens; censorship alleged

Despite much interest and advance ticket sales, the documentary about a North Korean refugee opened in only a few theaters in South Korea. Spy Nation tells the story of Yoo In-sung, a former government employee in South Korea, who was harassed and pressed on false charges by the National Intelligence Service, South Korea’s spy agency. The producers claim that large theater chains, afraid of upsetting the government, are cutting down the number of screenings. Given the news about the government’s blacklist, perhaps those fears are not unfounded.

30 Burmese refugees to come

The government will soon accept 30 Burmese refugees from camps in Thailand. This is the second time South Korea let in refugees through a pre-screening program run by the U.N. The country grants refugee status to very few individuals (under 30 per year), with little changing despite a major overhaul of the refugee law in 2013. Most applicants receive a humanitarian visa, which allows them to stay in the country, but makes it difficult to find work and rebuild their lives.

Migrant children deprived of education

An estimated 10,000 migrant children in the country, including those with one South Korean parent, are left out of the education system, with schools unsure of how to deal with students from different cultural or linguistic backgrounds. Unlike for South Korean parents, non-Korean parents are not legally required to send their children to school. Even in regions with large numbers of migrant children, many end up simply not attending school at all. The total number of migrant students currently enrolled in public school: approx. 7,000.

In brief

  • Your KakaoTalk chat history is safe again (for now): The company says they will no longer comply with warrants for messages stored on their servers, following a court ruling that only monitoring of real-time communications is legal.
  • In May, the Gangnam murder case sparked a public discussion about oppressive misogyny present in South Korea, a debate that continues to the present. Recently, the suspect was sentenced to 30 years in prison. But contrary to the nature of the debate he sparked, the court attributed a variety of other psychological reasons for the crime, saying he was not motivated by misogyny.
  • Parents here have begun to debate whether toddler safety leashes are a violation of a child’s rights and worth the potential negative psychological effects.
  • Customer service professions already are known to be extremely taxing, but the emotional and psychological trauma experienced by workers in these fields have now been shown to lead to sleep disorders.
  • Use of methanol at factories that produce cell phone parts has caused a series of cases of severe vision problems and blindness among workers.

Longer reads

  • The issue of conscientious objectors is again in front of the constitutional court, following cases from 2004 and 2011. Objectors are sentences to a maximum of 3 years in prison for refusing to report for mandatory military service (in contrast to the military service period of 21 months), and imprisoned objectors in S. Korea account for 92.5% of the world’s total (as of 2013). Despite recommendations from the UN and major NGOs, the government has yet refused to offer an alternative form of national service that doesn’t involve military duties.
  • Minimalist living is beginning to catch on in South Korea.
  • A profile of the original ‘balloon warrior’ who sends thousands of leaflets across the DMZ into North Korea.

Image: Actors Song Kang-ho and Kim Hye-soo are among the 10,000 blacklisted. In the photo, they are openly supporting the Sewol families and their cause. (Film Association Urging the Ratification of the Sewol Special Law)

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And that was the news from last week. We value your feedback. Send any questions, comments, errors, or omissions to weeklybrief@8d2.359.myftpupload.com.

Weekly Brief is a collection of the must-read articles regarding human rights and social issues in South Korea, produced in collaboration with the Korea Human Rights Foundation (KHRF / 한국인권재단). The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of KHRF.

Daniel Corks is Korea Exposé's human rights editor and a research fellow at Korea Human Rights Foundation.