SEOUL-- The South Korean government on Monday launched a special probe team to investigate blacklisting artists deemed unfriendly to the former President Park Geun-hye.

Listing anti-government artists and banning them from state financial support was one of the main things that sparked massive public protests and Park's impeachment last year. She was removed permanently by the Constitutional Court in March.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, at the center of executing the controversial policy towards artists, is set to put institutional devices in place to stop the repeat of such hostile and unfair policies and to guarantee freedom of expression.

"The new government's first project to remove deep-rooted ills is getting to the root of blacklisting artists and improving the system," Do Jong-whan, the culture minister appointed last month to overhaul the ministry, said at a press briefing on the new committee.

"We aren't only talking about artists here. Everyone has the right to not be excluded, discriminated against or monitored," he said.

The minister, together with artist Shin Hak-chul, will oversee the operation of the 21-member committee comprised of four culture ministry officials and 17 civic activists and artists mostly blacklisted by the former government.

The committee, born after a month of deliberation and discussion, is divided into three sub-groups tasked with investigation, improving the system and publishing a white paper. The committee will operate for six months but can be extended every three months if necessary.

"Since Korea was liberated (from Japanese rule), artists have never truly enjoyed freedom of expression. It is due to the particular circumstance of being a divided nation. It will be really hard to achieve absolute freedom of expression but I will work together to get us nearer to that goal," Co-chairman Shin said.

Last week, Kim Ki-choon, chief of staff to former President Park who was accused of playing a key role in creating the blacklist, was sentenced to three years in prison for abuse of power and perjury. Former Culture Minister Kim Jong-deok was sentenced to two years on similar charges. Cho Yoon-sun, the successor to Kim Jong-deok, was convicted of perjury but received a suspended prison term and was released.

"I know many artists were dissatisfied with the result of the trials. While I respect the court's decision, I myself can sympathize with the artists.... The investigation of the committee might dig up more facts and details," the minister said.

Citing many art-related businesses and projects unduly getting scrapped due to the blacklist, the minister said his team will work hard to bring those projects back to life.

Lee Won-jae, who leads the subcommittee working on improving the system, said blacklisting artists was not just the government trying to excluding them. It is "obviously state violence" committed against them, he said.

"We will look into not only the cause, but also the general cultural policies and administration."

Poet Song Kyung-dong, a member of the committee and once a blacklisted artist himself, told reporters, "This is not the end of the story. It will be only the very beginning.... We, artists, will fight together until infringement on freedom of expression will disappear once and for all."

Source: Yonhap News Agency