Three Activists Who Tried to Remove a 19th-Century African Artwork From the Quai Branly Museum in Paris Have Been Convicted

Prosecutors initially sought a €150,000 fine and a prison sentence.

The Musée du Quai Branly in Paris. Photo by Raphael Gaillarde/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.
The Musée du Quai Branly in Paris. Photo by Raphael Gaillarde/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

A Paris court has convicted the Congolese activist Mwazulu Diyabanza and two others after they attempted to remove a 19th-century funeral pole from the Musée du quai Branly in Paris as a protest against France’s role in plundering African heritage sites during the colonial era.

The three men were convicted on October 14 of attempted theft and were ordered to pay a €2,000 ($2,320) fine, a much lesser penalty than the 10-year prison sentence and €150,000 ($176,000) fine they originally faced. Prosecutors reduced their proposed penalty during the trial, which took place on October 1.

Diyabanza has been ordered to pay €1,000 ($1,160), while his two associates must each pay €500 ($580), according to the Associated Press. Diyabanza tells Artnet News that the conviction is a “big joke.”

“The judge said loud and clear that he understood the relevance of my fight, but to discourage what he calls the radicalism of my action, he ordered me to pay €1,000,” the activist says. He adds that he will appeal the conviction, saying “If the objective is to discourage me, they have miscalculated.”

The activists entered the Musée du quai Branly on June 12 and attempted to remove the 19th-century funerary object, created in present-day Chad, as part of a demand that France repatriate African heritage taken during the colonial era.

The Musée du quai Branly holds around 70,000 African artworks, nearly 80 percent of all the African art in French public collections. Many of the works were taken from the continent and brought to France during colonial missions.

The action came three years after French president Emmanuel Macron initiated a conversation about restituting African heritage, but commentators say progress has since stalled.

French officials have denounced the attempted theft, which they say sets a dangerous example that threatens ongoing negotiations to repatriate African heritage legally.

Two other activists were also implicated in the trial earlier this month, but they face no penalties.

The Paris prosecutor’s office did not respond to Artnet News’s request for comment.

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