Mainland Chinese woman Tang Lin-ling, who was accused of taking photos during a politically charged trial in Hong Kong, has been found guilty of criminal contempt of court.
High Court judge Mr Justice Andrew Chan Hing-wai handed down the verdict on Monday and sentenced Tang to seven days in jail, concluding a chaotic chapter in a trial otherwise focused on people arrested during the pro-democracy Occupy protests of 2014.
The courtroom photo saga was filled with twists and turns, from Tang’s turning down free legal help to her failing to comply with her bail conditions and her temporary loss of freedom as a result.
On May 23, the woman, who claimed to be a Hong Kong resident from Shaoxing in Zhejiang province, had her phone seized by the court after a few pupil barristers saw her take pictures during the proceeding and reported her. She was also spotted posting some of the photos to social media.
Returning to the court two days later, she said she was offered help by a barrister she met in a lift inside the court building.
Having claimed to be a specialist in mergers and acquisitions, Tang declined his offer later on the same day.
Yet amid her time in the media spotlight, little information is available about the mysterious woman aside from what she herself revealed. Tang said she was legally trained and had been educated in Australia at one point. Before she was granted bail, she told the court she came to Hong Kong to learn about the city’s legal system.
On Tuesday last week, Tang was brought back to court by police after she failed to post a cash bail of HK$50,000 (US$6,400). The local address she provided – which she said belonged to a friend – also appeared to be non-existent.
On Thursday, when her trial commenced, Tang admitted to taking three photos picturing lawyers and defendants on trial on May 23, and posting images on the messaging app WeChat. But she denied that this amounted to contempt of court.
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During her testimony, Tang said the images might help Hongkongers better understand the judicial process and improve transparency.
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.