SEOUL – A South Korean 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 attracted young women, including minors, by promising them well-paying jobs before forcing them to engage in pornography.

The man, Moon Hyeong-wook, opened one of the first such sites in 2015, prosecutors say. Mr Moon, 25, operated a members-only underground chat room under the nickname “GodGod” on the Telegram messaging app, featuring more than 3,700 clips of illicit pornography, they said.

Mr. Moon, an architectural student who was expelled from his college after his arrest last year, was one of the most notorious of the hundreds of people police arrested during their investigation. Another chatroom operator, a man named Cho Joo-bin, was sentenced in November to 40 years in prison.

“The accused inflicted irreparable damage on his victims through his anti-society crime which undermined human dignity,” court president Cho Soon-pyo said of Mr. Moon on Thursday. in his decision. The trial took place in a district. court in Andong city in central South Korea.

Mr. Moon was charged in June with forcing 21 young women, including minors, to make 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 who downloaded sexually explicit content. , posing as a police officer investigating pornography.

Once he obtained the images and personal data, he used them to blackmail the women, threatening to send the clips to their parents unless the victims provided more footage, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors have demanded a life sentence for Mr. Moon.

Last December, police said they investigated 3,500 suspects, mostly men in their 20s or teenagers, as part of their investigation into online chat rooms that served as avenues for sexual exploitation and abuse. pornographic distribution. They arrested 245.

Police also identified 1,100 victims.

The scandal, known in South Korea as the “Nth Room Affair”, sparked outrage over the cruel exploitation of young women. Women’s rights groups have been picketing courthouses where chat room operators are on trial, accusing judges of condoning sex crimes by handing down what they see as light sentences.

On Thursday, outside the Andong courthouse, lawyers held a rally demanding the maximum sentence for Mr. Moon.

In recent years, South Korean police have started cracking down on sexually explicit file-sharing websites as part of international efforts to combat child pornography. As smartphones proliferated, they soon realized that much of the illegal commerce was migrating to online chat rooms on messaging services like Telegram.

Police said they had difficulty locating customers in online chat rooms as they often used cryptocurrency payments to avoid getting caught.