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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – The operator of online chat rooms in South Korea was sentenced to 40 years in prison on Thursday for blackmailing dozens of women, including minors, into filming sexually explicit videos and sell them to others.

Seoul Central District Court sentenced Cho Ju-bin, 24, for violating child protection laws and organizing a criminal ring, court spokesman Kim Yong Chan said.

The court ruled that Cho “had used various methods to entice and blackmail a large number of victims into creating sexually abusive content and distributed it to many people over an extended period of time,” Kim said. “In particular, he revealed the identity of many victims and inflicted irreparable damage on them.

Cho argued that he only tricked the victims into making such videos, but did not blackmail or force them, prompting some of the victims to testify in court.

Kim said the court decided to isolate Cho from society for an extended period of time due to her attitude and the seriousness of her crime.

Cho and prosecutors, who had requested a life sentence, have a week to appeal.

Prosecutors formally arrested or charged Cho and seven accomplices in June for allegedly producing sexually abusive videos of 74 victims, including 16 minors, and distributing them on the Telegram messaging app, where users paid in cryptocurrency. to watch them in 2019-2020.

A statement from prosecutors called Cho’s group a “criminal network” of 38 members. The Seoul court on Thursday sentenced five of Cho’s accomplices, including a 16-year-old, to up to 15 years in prison.

When presented to the media after his first detention at a police station in March, Cho said, “Thank you for stopping the life of a devil (I couldn’t stop). “

Cho’s case has sparked intense public outcry and soul-searching in South Korea about a culture that some experts say is too lenient on sexual violence and continually lets victims down. President Moon Jae-in earlier called for a full investigation and severe penalties for those who operate these chat rooms and their users.

In recent years, South Korea has struggled to cope with what the government describes as digital sex crimes, which apart from abusive chat rooms also include the dissemination of intimate photos and videos taken by smartphones. or tiny spy cameras hidden in public spaces and buildings, an issue that sparked massive protests in 2018.

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