The leader of a huge online sexual abuse ring that shocked South Korea has been sentenced to 40 years in prison.
A Seoul court found Cho Ju-bin guilty of targeting at least 74 women, including 16 minors, and tricking them into “virtual enslavement” in a case that led to calls for the government to crack down on sexual offences online.
Cho blackmailed his victims into sending degrading and in some cases violent sexual images of themselves between May 2019 and February this year.
The 24-year-old, who allegedly used the nickname “baksa”, meaning “doctor” in Korean, is accused of distributing and streaming the videos to members of Baksabang, a group chatroom on the messaging service Telegram.
The Seoul central district court found Cho guilty of violating laws protecting minors from sexual abuse and of operating a criminal ring to profit from producing and selling abusive videos.
“The defendant lured and threatened multiple victims in various ways to produce pornography and distributed it for a long time to many people,” the judge said, according to the Yonhap news agency. “He in particular inflicted irrecoverable damage to many victims by publishing their identities.”
The court said Cho’s sentence was appropriate given “the gravity of his crimes, the sheer number of victims and the damage done to them, his evil influence on society and his unrepentant attitude”, Yonhap reported.
Cho’s arrest in March prompted widespread anger in South Korea, which is battling an epidemic of digital sex crimes, including molka – the use of hidden cameras to spy on women and distribute images of a sexual nature.
Millions of people signed petitions urging authorities to release Cho’s identity and investigate not only the ring’s organisers but also the subscribers, who paid as much as 1.5m won (£1,014) to view the abusive images.
Cho, who apologised to his victims when he was taken into custody, claimed in court that he had “cheated” the women into filming the videos but denied he had blackmailed or coerced them. His denials meant some of the women were forced to testify in court.
Police have arrested more than 120 suspects, and 18 operators of chatrooms on Telegram and other social media, including Cho, have been detained following investigations into similar crimes since late last year.
Prosecutors had demanded a life sentence. Cho’s lawyers have a week to appeal the verdict.