(ATTN: ADDS Army chief's meeting, background info in last 5 paras, photo)
By Oh Seok-min
SEOUL, April 28 (Yonhap) -- The Army on Tuesday disclosed the name, photo and age of an enlisted soldier accused of involvement in a high-profile sexual exploitation case, marking the first time that the military has revealed the identity of a soldier suspect.
The 19-year-old private first class, named Lee Won-ho, is suspected of distributing content of women performing gruesome sex acts under coercion in collaboration with the so-called Nth room case's prime suspect, Cho Ju-bin.
The disclosure decision was made after an hourslong deliberation session held earlier in the day by a seven-member panel, which was headed by a military prosecutor and also consisted of four outside experts, including a law professional, professor and cleric, according to the Army.
"He played an active role in recruiting participants of the 'Baksabang' chat room and making and distributing sex exploitation materials, and enough evidence has been secured as the prosecution issued an arrest warrant," the Army said in a release.
"The committee had in-depth discussions about the human rights violation that the suspect and his family would suffer but determined that the disclosure meets public interest in terms of the people's right to know and the prevention of any recurrences of similar and other crimes," it added.
Lee was put under pretrial detention earlier this month and has been under investigation by the military prosecution for his role in the case.
Article 25 of the country's Act on Special Cases Concerning the Punishment of Sexual Crimes stipulates that the disclosure of suspects' identities is allowed even before a guilty verdict in cases where there is sufficient evidence and the disclosure is deemed right for public interest.
Earlier, police disclosed the identities of the 24-year-old Cho and another co-conspirator, 18-year-old Kang Hun, on the same grounds.
In preparation for a possible similar move, the military authorities last week devised new guidelines regarding the issue, according to officials.
The main culprit, Cho, is accused of luring and threatening victims into producing sexual content and distributing those materials via Telegram chat rooms. He was indicted earlier this month.
So far, 25 women, including eight underage girls, have been confirmed to be victims of the case, according to the prosecution.
During a meeting with major commanders, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Suh Wook pledged to make discipline tightening a top priority so as to win public confidence in the Army.
The military has come under fire for a series of lax discipline cases, such as insults by superiors and sexual violence cases.
"After having further discussions involving all service personnel, we will come up with detailed measures to eradicate those irregularities at the barracks," the Army said.
Last week, the defense ministry said an Army corporal was under a probe over allegations of hitting a female captain with a folding shovel earlier this month, inflicting injuries requiring two weeks of medical treatment.
Military police are also looking into suspicions that four Army noncommissioned officers sexually harassed a superior officer last month.
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