Illicit photos cost mainland Chinese woman HK$197,260 and seven days in jail after Hong Kong court case
Tang Lin-ling found guilty of contempt of court for taking pictures in hearing related to 2014 Occupy protests and posting others taken in court to WeChat
A set of photographs that Tang Lin-ling took of a politically charged Hong Kong trial have cost her HK$197,260 (US$25,100) in legal fees and seven days in jail.
The mainland Chinese woman was found guilty of criminal contempt of court on Monday, ending a chaotic chapter in a trial otherwise focused on people arrested during the pro-democracy Occupy protests of 2014.
By Monday night Tang, not a permanent Hong Kong resident, had completed her term – having been in custody since Tuesday – and been deported to Shenzhen.
Handing down his verdict, High Court judge Mr Justice Andrew Chan Hing-wai told Tang she had taken some “very expensive photographs”, and advised her to “be wise” the next time she was in a Hong Kong courtroom.
Tang, who appeared calm while Chan delivered his verdict, had been in custody since last week having failed to post cash bail of HK$50,000.
The courtroom photo saga was filled with twists and turns, from Tang turning down free legal help to failing to comply with her bail conditions, and her jailing as a result.
On May 23, the woman had her phone seized by the court after a group of pupil barristers saw her taking pictures during proceedings and reported her. Tang, who said she was a Hong Kong resident from Shaoxing in Zhejiang province but gave police a false address in Hong Kong, was also spotted posting some of the photographs to social media.
At the start of her trial last Thursday, Tang admitted taking three photographs of lawyers and defendants and posting some other images from inside the court building to a page on WeChat.
However, she denied that this amounted to a contempt of court.
On Monday, Chan said Tang’s actions had interfered with the administration of justice, even if she had not intended to.
The judge said he believed Tang had gone to court to learn about the city’s legal system, while the photographs may have been to “show off” to her friends that she was in a Hong Kong court.
“The respondent did not have a specific intention to obstruct the administration of justice,” Chan said. “[But] her action was … interfering with the administration of justice.”
Chan said the original proceedings against those arrested during the Occupy protest came to “a complete halt” because of Tang’s case.
“The disruption is considerable and extensive,” he said.
The judge said the case was the first criminal contempt case regarding unlawful photo-taking to have come before the High Court. He said taking of photographs in court by the public has been a “problem and concern”, especially in criminal cases.
During mitigation, Tang said the court’s judgment was “fair and objective”, but said she did not think she had committed a criminal offence.
“I admitted the conduct of taking photos,” Tang said. “But that conduct was [done] without any ill intention.”
However, she apologised again for her actions.
While she objected to the court’s decision directing her to pay legal costs, she said her credit card had been misappropriated, and demanded compensation for being remanded, even though she was found guilty of the charge.
However, Chan said he had no authority to consider such a request and told her “this is not the mainland”.
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, and anyone who takes photos can be fined up to HK$2,000.
Those found in breach of the law may also be sued for contempt of court, which is punishable by time in jail.