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(LEAD) Sex crime chat room ignites public fury

Consumer Electronics 15:03 March 23, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS details in paras 3-4, 12-14)

SEOUL, March 23 (Yonhap) -- More than 2 million people have signed an online petition as of Monday demanding the government unveil the identity of a man who allegedly ran a group chat room where photos and videos of violent sex acts, involving underaged victims, were distributed.

At least 74 victims are known to have been exploited in the so-called Nth room case, in which a man surnamed Cho allegedly lured victims into taking naked photos and later threatened and exploited them into more gruesome sex acts.

Cho, who used the nickname "baksa," which means "doctor" or "guru" in Korean, is accused of distributing the videos in a group chat room on the messaging service Telegram, where some of up to 10,000 users are suspected of paying Cho to watch the videos.

Cho reportedly charged the viewers in cryptocurrency, which makes it more difficult for authorities to track down perpetrators compared with other financial payment methods, such as credit cards and mobile phone payments.

Police have so far tracked down 124 people in relation to the case, including Cho and 17 others who have been formally detained. The user who is suspected of first creating the chat room, however, still remains at large.

A screenshot captured from an online petition system run by South Korea's presidential office on March 22, 2020, shows that more than 2 million people have signed a petition demanding the government disclose the identity of a man who allegedly ran a sex crime chat room. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE)(Yonhap)

The case, which became notorious for its extreme brutality, has triggered public fury here as people signed presidential petitions and shared social media hashtags demanding powerful punishment against the perpetrators.

As of Monday, nearly 2.2 million people have signed an online petition on a website run by the presidential office demanding that police disclose Cho's identity and put him on a press photo line.

"If (he) is not a devil, who else can you say is a devil? (He) should stand on a photo line, with his bare face ... Human rights are a luxury for someone who thinks lightly of other people's humiliation," reads the petition that was posted on March 18.

This marks a record number of endorsements for the online petition system run by the presidential office. The presidential office releases an official response for petitions that have received more than 200,000 signatures.

More than 1.5 million have also signed another petition that demands the government disclose the identities of an estimated 260,000 members in spinoff group chat rooms on Telegram.

A seven-member committee at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, which includes four members outside of the police, is expected to hold a meeting Tuesday to decide whether to disclose Cho's identity.

"The disclosure should be decided based on a thorough review of (factors such as) the public's right to know, preventing the suspect's recidivism and its effect on preventing crimes," Police Chief Min Gab-ryong told reporters in a written statement.

Min said the police is investigating the case based on its own monitoring results and tips received from a women rights organization, adding the police is also in consultation with overseas authorities.

Under South Korean law, those who own content that sexually exploits minors can face up to one year in jail or up to 20 million won (US$15,746) in fines. There is no punishment clause for owning content that sexually exploits an adult.

A man surnamed Cho, who is suspected of running a Telegram chat room where sexual crimes took place, is seen getting in a police car after attending a court hearing at Seoul Central District Court in southern Seoul on March 19, 2020. (Yonhap)

mlee@yna.co.kr
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