TORONTO -- A global protest has erupted as fans of Korean pop group Monsta X react to a member leaving due to a ‘scandal,’ exposing the harsher side of the Kpop industry and South Korean culture.

Wonho, real name Lee Ho-seok, announced he was departing from the 7-member boy band in an Oct. 31 statement from his management agency, Starship Entertainment, followed by a hand-written letter posted on social media apologizing for his past “mistakes.”

The allegations against him include owing his ex-roommate money, selling her things without her knowledge, attending a juvenile detention centre when he was younger, and partaking in cannabis in 2013, two years before he debuted with Monsta X.

The cannabis allegation is the only illegal activity the star is accused of, as South Korea has strict cannabis laws, with drug cases carrying an investigative statute of limitations of seven years and sentences of up to five years in prison.

To an international audience, the allegations would barely raise an eyebrow if they were levelled at a Western artist, but conservative South Korean culture places an inordinate amount of pressure on Kpop “idols,” as they’re known, to maintain an absolutely squeaky clean image.

Hours after the news broke, fans of the group – affectionately known as “monbebe” or “my baby” in French, took to the streets of Seoul and descended upon the Starship Entertainment building, posting sticky notes expressing support for Wonho, disbelief over the suddenness of his departure, and anger at the management company for their perceived unwillingness to step up and defend their artist.

On Twitter, hashtags demanding Wonho’s return to the group such as #WonhoCOMEBACK, #StarshipfightforWonho, #FightforWonho  and #stillhereforWonho trended globally, and initiatives by Monbebe’s to raise awareness were launched around the globe.

A petition to Starship Entertainment to keep Wonho in Monsta X, emblazoned with the words “monbebes do not want Wonho to leave. Monsta X is 7 members” has more than 433,000 signatures after being launched Oct. 31, with numbers climbing daily.

A GoFundMe campaign created Saturday by a Monbebe named Carter Lee, raised USD $25,102 put up a Times Square electronic billboard in New York City in support of Wonho.

A post on Lee’s Twitter account Tuesday appears to confirm the campaign will run from Nov. 6 through to Nov. 7, playing 15-second bits 30 times.

Fans organized a sit-in outside of the Starship Entertainment building, with banners with Wonho’s face and a message of support were put up on lampposts up and down the street.

Monsta X has a wide and international fan base, especially after signing with American label Epic Records earlier this year, which means that oftentimes their international fans are at odds with the more socially conservative South Korean fans.

Aspects of South Korean culture, including the importance of public image and reputation, often come at the cost of a favourite performer losing the spotlight, sometimes being booted from their group or even landing in jail.

Intense online scrutiny and bullying of anyone seen disrupting South Korean social norms, or buckling under the pressure of maintaining a certain image have had fatal consequence in the past -- with several instances of kpop idols dying by suicide after suffering systemic online abuse due to their appearance, values or other supposed faux pas. 

Last year, a similar outpouring of condemnation from international fans occurred when songstress Hyuna revealed her relationship to fellow Kpop performer E’Dawn, which led to their management company terminating their contracts. Many Kpop idols have “dating bans” written into their contracts.

Regardless of Starship Entertainment’s rumoured termination of Wonho’s contract, fans of Monsta X continue to clamour for his return to the group and continually boost social media campaigns for the company to reconsider their position, in a move widely seen as the first time an international fanbase has gone to such lengths for a South Korean pop act.