People gathered in Gwanghwamun Plaza on Oct. 29 to voice concerns over the scandal implicating President Park Geun-hye and her friend, Choi Soon-sil. (Jun Michael Park/Korea Exposé)

Weekly Brief: Oct. 24th – 30th

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Choi Soon-sil scandal grows

A smoldering political scandal surrounding Park Geun-hye turned into wildfire this week and is quickly engulfing Park’s presidency. Her approval ratings are in free-fall, her own party has turned on her, newspapers across the political spectrum are calling for her and her entire cabinet to step down, and “resignation” and “impeachment” are the most common search terms on domestic internet portals. At the heart is Park’s confidante, one Choi soon-sil, and allegations that Choi used her influence over the Park to influence policy and embezzle billions of won.

Presidential scandals are nothing new to the South Korean public, but this one isn’t your tired narrative of who-redirected-funds-to-whose-cronies. This time around, the details read like something from the tabloid pages. (At the extreme, they include Choi’s father’s claims that he was in contact with Park’s dead mother.) Choi is now back in the country and will submit to questioning on Monday. Meanwhile, an estimated 20,000 people joined a rally on Saturday calling for the president’s resignation. We’ve been publishing summaries of the scandal on our Facebook page as the details emerge, and we’ll have a longer piece on this scandal later today.

Jailed for art

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Prosecutors are seeking an 18-month sentence for an artist for “general obstruction of traffic” and “destruction of property”.

The first charge is actually for holding up a banner at a Sewol rally in 2014. The artist was one of thousands of attendees. The second charge is for spray painting art on construction barriers (the image above, from the artist’s Facebook, says “sayonara”). The barriers, already covered in graffiti, surround a privately held empty lot. Both the rally and the art were critical of President Park. Meanwhile, using blacklists and trumped-up charges to suppress, or outright threaten and arrest, artists critical of the government has become a hallmark of Park’s administration.

Police will not seek to renew autopsy warrant

The autopsy warrant for the body of Baek Nam-gi expired on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, Baek’s family and supporters rebuffed a final attempt by police to conduct the autopsy.

Baek was a 68-year-old farmer who was knocked unconscious by a police water cannon at last November’s labor rally. He stayed in a coma for nearly a year, until his death this September. The autopsy of his body has been a contentious issue; the police demand one to clarify the cause of his death, while family members do not trust the fairness of a police autopsy.

The National Police Agency has said that it will not request a new warrant, marking the end of a month-long standoff. But the dispute isn’t over. Baek’s family members and supporters want the police agency to take responsibility for Baek’s death, apologize, and launch an investigation into police brutality and force.

In brief

  • For local parents, Halloween has become yet another way to compete with the Jones.
  • The government will launch an investigation into claims that Choi Soon-sil’s daughter received preferential treatment as a student at Ewha University.
  • The CEO of Oxy Reckitt Benckiser Korea apologized in court to victims of a toxic dehumidifier disinfectant produced by the company.
  • Teenage smokers try their first cigarette at age 12 and become regular smokers at age 13.

Longer reads

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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.

Cover image: People gathered in Gwanghwamun Plaza on Oct. 29 to voice concerns over the scandal implicating President Park Geun-hye and her friend, Choi Soon-sil. (Jun Michael Park/Korea Exposé)

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