SEOUL – A South Korean man was sentenced to 34 years in prison on Thursday as part of the country's crackdown on an infamous network of online chat rooms that lured young women, including minors, with promises of high-paying jobs before being forced into pornography.
The man, Moon Hyeong-wook, opened one of the first such sites in 2015, prosecutors said. Mr. Moon, 25, operated a clandestine chat room for members nicknamed "GodGod" on the Telegram messenger app, offering more than 3,700 clips of illegal pornography, they said.
Mr. Moon, an architect major expelled from his university after his arrest last year, was one of the most infamous of hundreds of people arrested by police in the course of their investigation. Another chat room operator, a man named Cho Joo-bin, was sentenced to 40 years in prison last November.
"The accused has caused irreparable harm to his victims through his crime against a society that undermined human dignity," said judge Cho Soon-pyo of Mr Moon in his ruling on Thursday. The trial took place in a district. court in the city of Andong in central South Korea.
Moon was charged in June on charges of forcing 21 young women, including minors, to shoot sexually explicit videos between 2017 and early last year.
He approached young women looking for high-paying jobs through social media platforms, then tricked them into making sexually explicit videos, promising big payouts, prosecutors said. He also hacked the online accounts of women uploading sexually explicit content posing as a police officer investigating pornography.
Once he got his hands on the images and personal information, he used them to blackmail the women and threatened to send the clips to their parents unless the victims provided more footage, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors demanded a life sentence for Mr. Moon.
Last December, police said they had investigated 3,500 suspects, most of them men in their 20s or teens, as part of their investigation of the online chat rooms that served as avenues for sexual exploitation and pornographic distribution. They arrested 245.
Police also identified 1,100 victims.
The scandal, known in South Korea as "the Nth Room Case", caused outrage at the brutal exploitation of the young women. Women's rights groups opted for courthouses where chat room operators tried and accused judges of condoning sex crimes with what they perceived to be light sentences.
On Thursday, lawyers held a meeting outside the Andong courthouse to demand the maximum sentence for Mr. Moon.
In recent years, South Korean police began cracking down on sexually explicit file-sharing websites as part of international efforts to combat child pornography. As smartphones spread, they soon realized that much of the illegal trade was migrating to online chat rooms on messaging services such as Telegram.
Police said they had trouble tracking down customers from the online chat rooms because they often used cryptocurrency payments to avoid getting caught.