SEOUL — A South Korean man 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 lured young women, including minors, with promises of high-paying jobs before forcing them into pornography.
The man, Moon Hyeong-wook, opened one of the first such sites in 2015, prosecutors said. Mr. Moon, 25, operated a clandestine members-only chat room under the nickname “GodGod” on the Telegram messenger app, offering more than 3,700 clips of illicit pornography, they said.
Mr. Moon, an architecture major who was expelled from his college after his arrest last year, was one of the most notorious of the hundreds of people the police have arrested in the course of their investigation. Another chat room operator, a man named Cho Joo-bin, was sentenced to 40 years in prison last November.
“The accused inflicted irreparable damage on his victims through his anti-society crime that undermined human dignity,” the presiding judge, Cho Soon-pyo, said of Mr. Moon in his ruling on Thursday. The trial took place in a district court in the city of Andong in central South Korea.
Mr. Moon was indicted in June on charges of forcing 21 young women, including minors, into making sexually explicit videos between 2017 and early last year.
He approached young women looking for high-paying jobs through social media platforms, then lured them into making sexually explicit videos, promising big payouts, prosecutors said. He also hacked into the online accounts of women who uploaded sexually explicit content, pretending to be a police officer investigating pornography.
Once he got hold of the images and personal data, he used them to blackmail the women, threatening to send the clips to their parents unless the victims supplied more footage, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors demanded a life sentence for Mr. Moon.
Last December, the police said they had investigated 3,500 suspects, most of them men in their 20s or teenagers, as part of their investigation of the online chat rooms that served as avenues for sexual exploitation and pornographic distribution. They arrested 245 of them.
The police also identified 1,100 victims.
The scandal, known in South Korea as “the Nth Room Case,” caused outrage over the cruel exploitation of the young women. Women’s rights groups picketed courthouses where chat room operators were on trial, accusing judges of condoning sex crimes by handing down what they considered light punishments.
On Thursday, outside the Andong courthouse, advocates held a rally demanding the maximum punishment for Mr. Moon.
In recent years, the South Korean police began cracking down on sexually explicit file-sharing websites as part of international efforts to fight child pornography. As smartphones proliferated, they soon realized that much of the illegal trade was migrating to online chat rooms on messaging services like Telegram.
The police said they had trouble tracking down customers of the online chat rooms because they often used cryptocurrency payments to avoid being caught.