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Sexual harassment and assault

South Korean politician quits after woman accuses him of unzipping her pants in karaoke bar

Min Byung-doo is the first sitting MP to step down over allegations of abuse, which have swept fields from politics to the arts

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 March, 2018, 3:34pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 March, 2018, 10:38pm

A South Korean member of parliament resigned Monday after being accused of sex abuse, the latest target of a spreading #MeToo campaign in the country, as an exhibition to an accused poet was dismantled.

Min Byung-doo, a three-term lawmaker with the ruling Democratic Party, quit despite requests by his own organisation to reconsider as his exit whittled away its position as largest party in the legislature.

He is the first sitting MP to step down over allegations of abuse, which have swept fields from politics to the arts.

A woman who declined to be named claimed in an interview with the online news website Newstapa that Min had forcibly kissed her and unzipped her trousers at a karaoke in 2008.

Min, 59, denied the accusation in a statement last week but said he was “ready to resign if I committed any wrongdoings that I was not aware of”.

Min’s resignation has to be approved by the parliament to take effect, but would reduce the Democratic Party to 120 seats in the single chamber, just four more than the conservative Liberty Korea opposition. And at least seven by-elections are already due in June.

Also Monday, the main library of the capital Seoul removed an exhibition in honour of Ko Un, who is regularly tipped for the Nobel Prize in literature but has been accused of sex abuse.

Famed poet Choi Young-mi claimed that Ko, 84, had often groped young female writers and editors after publishing a thinly-veiled poem “Monster”, in which she detailed her experiences at his hands.

Another poet, Park Jin-sung, also said he had seen Ko groping women and exposing his penis to them while other literary figures turned a blind eye.

As public fury over Ko escalated, the education ministry said last week almost all of Ko’s works and mentions of his name would be removed from school textbooks.

Seoul Metropolitan Library, where a replica of Ko’s study featuring his books and other personal items donated by him had been on display since last year, removed the exhibition.

“We will take steps to return all the materials to the poet,” said a library official quoted by the Yonhap news agency.

Ko has denied the allegations against him in a statement to The Guardian, saying he did “nothing which might bring shame on my wife or myself”.

South Korean women have long been reluctant to come forward about sex abuse due to fears of relentless public shaming and bullying in a country that remains deeply patriarchal despite economic and technological advances.

But a Seoul prosecutor in January made a rare move to speak out about sex abuse by a superior on live television, triggering a wave of accusations against figures ranging from artists to politicians.

In the most high-profile case, Ahn Hee-jung, a former presidential contender and a star politician, stepped down last week as a provincial governor after his aide accused him of multiple rapes.

He was questioned for around nine hours by prosecutors on Friday.