Mainland Chinese woman accused of taking photos in Hong Kong court admits snapping and uploading them but denies she was in contempt
Judge says her acts during a hearing related to the city’s 2014 Occupy movement constituted serious interference in the administration of justice
The trial of a mainland Chinese woman accused of taking photographs during a Hong Kong court hearing related to the city’s 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests began on Thursday, with two key eyewitnesses giving accounts of her actions.
The two pupil barristers told the High Court that they saw Tang Lin-ling use her iPhone to snap images inside courtroom 28 during the hearing on May 23.
One of them, Sik Chee-ching, also said he saw at least one photograph, taken outside the courtroom but inside the court building, displayed on Tang’s screen while her phone was on WeChat, a social media app popular among mainlanders.
Tang admitted she took photos and uploaded them to the internet, but denied the acts amounted to criminal contempt of court, an offence for which she is standing trial.
Originally given court bail, Tang has been remanded into jail custody since Tuesday following a series of dramatic twists including the issuance of an arrest warrant after she failed to post bail of HK$50,000 (US$6,372).
Before the trial began, Tang made a plea to Mr Justice Andrew Chan Hing-wai, the presiding judge. “I hope I can regain my freedom as soon as possible,” she said.
Tang added that she did not wish to waste the city’s judicial resources.
A police investigation turned up three photographs on Tang’s mobile phone depicting lawyers and people standing trial.
Taking to the witness box, Sik recalled that Tang sat to his right in the public gallery that day, and came to his attention because her phone kept vibrating. It agitated him, he said.
When he looked over, a WeChat page was displayed on the phone, showing a photo of the courtroom’s entrance and another of a seat ticket given to the public that day, he told the court.
“Then I saw this woman suddenly hold up her phone with her right hand, to the level of her chest … aiming at the middle of court 28 and taking two photographs,” Sik recalled.
Sik said Tang held up her phone again to take a photo one more time when those in the court were bowing to the judge before a break.
Another pupil, Suriyan Joshua Kanjanapas, said he witnessed the alleged incident that took place shortly before the court break.
The pair and a fellow pupil barrister later reported Tang to senior counsel Victor Dawes, who was acting as prosecutor in the Occupy hearing, in which five people were standing trial for contempt for their actions during a court-ordered clearance of demonstrators.
Tang, who is representing herself, took her turn to cross-examine the witnesses. She asked if both had indeed seen her take pictures with their own eyes. They both said yes.
Before the trial began, Chan read out detailed allegations against Tang in court to glean her understanding of the situation.
Earlier claiming to be a specialist in mergers and acquisitions, Tang chose not to be represented by counsel despite being offered legal help on at least two occasions.
On Thursday morning she admitted to taking photos last week, but disputed it amounted to “criminal offences in Hong Kong”.
“Between about 10.05am and 10.50am, you were witnessed taking photos in court number 28 with your mobile phone while sitting in the public gallery,” the judge said, referring to the alleged conduct of May 23. “You were also seen to be using the social media software WeChat to upload the photos depicting the courtroom.”
The judge said Tang’s acts constituted serious interference in the administration of justice, thereby amounting to criminal contempt of court.
Photography is prohibited in all Hong Kong court buildings, as is the publication of any photos taken. There are signs on each floor and inside each court as reminders.
Section 7 of the Summary Offences Ordinance prohibits photography in courtrooms or court buildings, an offence that could result in a fine of HK$2,000.
Those found in breach of the law may also be sued for contempt of court, which is punishable by a jail term.
While Tang admitted to taking photos in court, she contested whether anyone had witnessed it.
“My conduct was not an offence in Hong Kong,” she added.
At one point, Tang, who was educated for a time in Australia, asked the judge if he could speak to her in Mandarin, her native language.
Chan declined, saying he had only studied Mandarin at an elementary level. He said Tang could speak more slowly so that he could understand almost everything she said, or the interpreter would translate what Tang said for him.
The trial continues on Friday.