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'Baksa Room' leader indicted again for sexual assault charge against minor

Oct. 19, 2022 - 15:41 By Lee Jung-Youn
Cho Ju-bin

Cho Ju-bin, the ringleader of the “Baksa Room” case that shocked the nation two years ago, is facing new charges of sexually assaulting a minor, which could push his sentence to life imprisonment from the current 42 years.

Seoul Central District Prosecutor's Office indicted Cho on Sept. 30 on additional charges of sexually assaulting an adolescent victim and forcing her to film sexual content. This newly revealed crime began in 2018, a year before Cho began the sexual exploitation ring that has since become known as the “Baksa Room” case. The victim was also allegedly blackmailed to take part in the Baksa Room, being forced to managed profits and participate in money laundering.

Cho has reportedly denied new charges, claiming he and the victim were in a relationship at the time, but the prosecution saw it as a part of his crime. Due to this indictment, all cases related to Cho that have been investigated so far have been handed over for the trial.

Cho is also on trial with his alleged accomplice Kang Hun on charges of threatening three victims in 2019 to take sexually explicit photos. If Cho is found guilty of the latest charges, his sentence could be extended to life imprisonment.

'Baksa Room' case

The “Baksa Room” case refers to a series of sexual exploitation crimes committed by a criminal ring led by Cho. From May 2019 to February 2020, Cho and accomplices exploited dozens of female victims -- some of them children -- to film sexually explicit content and distributed or sold the content through Telegram chat rooms. “Baksa,” which means a person with high intellectual capability, was Cho’s chat room handle.

An online petition demanding to reveal the personal information of Cho and his accomplices was posted on March 18, 2020, and more than 2 million people had signed within five days, demonstrating the public’s ire.

A police committee recognized the seriousness of his crime and ordered the disclosure of Cho’s personal information on March 24, 2020. This became the first case to disclose a suspected criminal’s identity in accordance with the Act on Special Cases Concerning the Punishment of Sexual Crimes.

On March 25, 2020, when he stood in front of press with his face in full view, Cho said he wanted to apologize to the victims and thanked the authorities for restraining him from an “unstoppable satanic life.” Severe criticism followed, saying no such grand modifier should be used to describe criminals.

Cho was indicted on several charges, including violations of the Act on the Protection of Children and Youth against Sex Offenses, and the Supreme Court confirmed a sentence of 42 years in prison and 30 years with an electronic tracking device about one year ago.

Kang Hun, a main accomplice known as the second-in-command of the ring, was a minor at the time of his arrest, but his personal information was disclosed as the court recognized the brutality of the crime, and 15 years in prison was confirmed in November 2021.

Controversy left behind

As two sexual abuse chat room cases -- “Baksa Room” and “Nth Room” -- broke out one after another, the nation was alarmed by their brutality, and calls for prevention measures rose.

New “Anti-Nth room” legislation was passed by the National Assembly on April 29, 2020 and May 20, 2021, and was imposed from Dec. 10, 2021, to manage similar digital sex crimes. The bills include provisions to oblige internet service providers to prevent their systems from being used as a channel for illegal content, and they strengthened punishments for various sex crimes.

However, the new law left a critical loophole in that it cannot monitor private chat rooms, which means it cannot target the most popularly abused application, Telegram. The reluctant attitude of overseas-based companies to comply has also raised public outrage.

In August 2021, a weblog titled "I'm Cho Ju-bin" was opened on Naver, the country's major portal site, reigniting public fury. Cho was staying at a detention center awaiting trial at that time. The operator who introduced himself as Cho uploaded posts claiming his innocence and distorting the statements of victims.

The blog operator turned out to be the father of Cho, and Naver closed the blog the next day as controversy escalated. Similar websites and blogs came up several more times and the Ministry of Justice launched an investigation in May this year, but that has yielded no specific result.