SEOUL — South Korea’s online chat room operator was sentenced to 40 years in prison on Thursday for allegedly blackmailing dozens of women, including minors, into filming sexually explicit videos and selling them to others .

The Seoul Central District Court convicted Cho Ju-bin, 24, of violating juvenile protection laws and organizing a criminal network, court spokesman Kim Yong Chan said.

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

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

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

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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 messaging app Telegram, where users paid in cryptocurrency to watch them in 2019-2020.

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

When introduced 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 soft on sexual violence and continually fails victims. President Moon Jae-in earlier called for a thorough investigation and tough penalties for those who operate these chat rooms and their users.

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In recent years, South Korea has struggled to deal with what the government describes as digital sex crimes, which in addition to 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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