PARIS (AP) – A Congolese activist was fined 2,000 euros ($ 2,320) on Wednesday for attempting to remove a 19th-century African burial pole from a museum in Paris in protest against colonial-era injustices that it was streaming online.
The court in Paris convicted Emery Mwazulu Diyabanza and two other activists for attempted theft, but the verdict fell far short of what they might receive for their actions at the Quai Branly Museum: 10 years in prison and 150,000 euros in fines.
Activists and defense attorneys saw the case as a trial of how former empires had to pay for past crimes. The Diyabanza museum action took place in June amid global protests against racial injustice and colonial-era abuses unleashed by the death of George Floyd on the knee of a white police officer on May 25 in the US.
In the Quai Branly protest, Diyabanza and other activists cleared his perch’s funeral pole while delivering a live stream speech about looted African art. Guards quickly stopped them. The activists claim they never intended to steal the work, but merely wanted to draw attention to its origins.
The presiding judge insisted that the trial should focus on the specific incident on the funeral pole and that his court had no jurisdiction to judge France’s colonial era.
French officials denounced the Quai Branly incident, saying it threatens ongoing negotiations with African countries initiated by French President Emmanuel Macron in 2018 for legal, organized restitution efforts.
Diyabanza carried out similar campaigns in the Netherlands and the southern French city of Marseille. He accuses European museums of making millions on works of art from now impoverished countries such as his native Congo, and said the burial pole, which comes from present-day Chad, should be one of the works to be returned to Africa.