S.Korea seeks tougher penalties against child porn after dark web site bust

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By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL, Nov 1 (Reuters) - South Korea is moving to clarify its definition of child pornography and increase sentences for people convicted of owning such imagery following a global investigation into a South Korea-based dark web site, a draft bill showed on Friday.

South Korean, British and U.S. authorities said last month they had arrested 337 people worldwide, including 223 South Koreans, after knocking out the web site, which sold videos of child sex abuse for digital cash.

The revelation led to calls in South Korea for harsher punishment for child pornography as most of the offenders received lighter penalties than those in other countries.

The site's operator, Son Jong-woo, is expected to be released this month after serving an 18-month sentence for violating the child protection and information laws. He was arrested and convicted in South Korea last year, before the authorities announced the investigation results.

In contrast, U.S. officials said several people convicted in the case are serving prison sentences of up to 15 years.

Possessing child or juvenile pornography in South Korea is currently punishable by up to one year or fines of a maximum 20 million won ($17,159.28).

The new bill, authored by South Korean lawmaker Kang Chang-il and seen by Reuters, calls for the penalties to be raised to up to three years in prison or 30 million won ($25,740) in fines, while defining child pornography as "abuse".

"Our law simply describes those illegally produced films and photos as pornography 'using' children and juveniles, but child pornography is sexual abuse and exploitation," Kang said.

The Justice Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

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Announcing the result of their multinational investigation, officials said the network was one of the largest child pornography operations they had encountered to date.

The website relied on cryptocurrency to sell access to 250,000 videos depicting child sexual abuse, including footage of extremely young children being raped, they said.

Calls for a tougher law was in part fuelled by the public disclosure of an online community where some South Koreans apparently caught in the case were found to have shared tips to evade a police raid or appeal for lighter punishment.

Story continues

More than 270,000 South Koreans have joined a petition raised with the presidential Blue House calling for the website's operator and other offenders to face stricter penalties and their identities to be disclosed.

Any petition that gathers more than 200,000 signatures requires a response from the government.

($1 = 1,165 won) (Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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