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Telegram users vent fears of criminal charges on online forum

Mar 26,2020


Users who bought and traded illegal pornography involving violent sex crimes through a series of encrypted chat rooms on the Telegram instant messaging app are now resorting to internet forums to vent their fears about being caught.

The day police publicly disclosed the identity of Cho Ju-bin, the suspected leader of the pornography ring, on Tuesday, dozens of posts emerged on a chat room forum on Discord, a popular communication application, from users who admitted they had accessed and partook in the trafficking on the controversial chat rooms.

“I promise to live an honest life if I am not captured,” read one post whose writer appeared clearly afraid of the legal repercussions. “I promise I will study hard and never complain about Hell Joseon,” read another, referring to the moniker internet users often use to criticize Korea.

Other posts included a person claiming they entered the chat room by accident and left once they found out there were minors featured on the videos being circulated. Another post appeared to reassure the others by stressing Korean courts tended to not punish consumers of illegal videos, and that only the makers and vendors of the content would receive prison sentences.

There were even people who tried to exploit the desperation of such users, with posts claiming they could delete one’s internet history in the chat rooms for a fee. Experts, however, say Telegram’s encryption system means getting rid of access records would be very difficult.

While that Discord forum has since been shut down by administrators, the 100 or so posts that emerged there within the span of a day testifies to just how many people partook as consumers of illegal porn in the notorious Telegram chat rooms. The porn chat rooms, referred to by the local media as “Nth rooms,” are believed to have been cumulatively accessed by a total of around 260,000 users, of which around 10,000 are believed to be heavy users who regularly paid for the services. While analysts say the real number of users is not likely to be as many as 260,000 - since many users accessed the rooms multiple times - many participants may indeed be subject to punishment depending on how intensively they partook in the crimes featured in the rooms.

The chat rooms were labeled based on what kind of videos were circulating inside, meaning that some of them involved more serious crimes than others. According to Shin Jin-hee, a public defender who specializes in sex crime cases, judges are likely to sentence each suspect based on different criteria, like whether they were aware that some of the subjects of these videos involved minors, whether they distributed the videos themselves or whether they paid for such content.

“Some people argue that they didn’t intentionally watch pornography involving minors, but they may still be punished since the Telegram app makes you download each video in order to watch it,” said Kim Beom-han, an attorney of YK Law. “The matter of intentionality may be subject to legal dispute.”

What is almost certain is that administrators and leaders of the pornography ring, like Cho, will face a jail sentence. The Justice Ministry on Tuesday said it was looking into putting a racketeering charge on the suspects for creating and distributing videos depicting illegal sex trafficking.

BY PYUN GWANG-HYUN [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]