Congo activist fined for snatching 'looted' Paris museum artefact

Published: 05:46 PM, 14 Oct, 2020
Congo activist fined for snatching 'looted' Paris museum artefact
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A Congolese activist who snatched an African artefact from a French museum to protest the looting of art during colonial times received a 1,000-euro fine for theft from a Paris court on Wednesday.

Emery Mwazulu Diyabanza grabbed a 19th-century Chadian funerary post during a tour of the Quai Branly museum in Paris on June 12

Shouting "we're bringing it home" he then made for the exit with four other members of an association that campaigns for the return of stolen African art before being stopped by guards. The protest, which one of the activists filmed and live-streamed on Facebook, was the first in a series by Diyabanza who has since snatched African artefacts in museums in the Netherlands and in the French port of Marseille.

He faces court cases in those cities too. Wednesday's hearing came a week after French lawmakers voted to return prized artefacts to Benin and Senegal more than a century after they were looted by colonial forces and hauled back to Paris to be displayed in museums.

Benin will recover the throne of its 19th-century King Glele -- a centrepiece of the 70,000-odd African items held at the Quai Branly museum, which showcases indigenous art.

Senegal, meanwhile, will get back a sword and scabbard said to have belonged to Omar Saidou Tall, an important 19th-century military and religious figure.

African leaders and activists have called on President Emmanuel Macron's government to go further and return more items.

Announcing plans to appeal his fine, Diyabanza told reporters after Wednesday's hearing that the "judges of a corrupt government" had no moral right to prevent him "going to get what belongs to us". "We will continue the fight with whatever means we have," he said.

Three of the activists who accompanied him to Quai Branly museum received suspended fines of 250 euros ($294), 750 euros ($589) and 1,000 euros ($1,177). A fourth was cleared of the charges.

90,000 African objects

The judge acknowledged that their actions were "activist" in nature but said he was fining them to "discourage" further such stunts. "You have other ways of drawing the attention of politicians and the public" to the issue of colonial cultural theft, he said.

An expert report commissioned by Macron in 2018 counted some 90,000 African works in French museums, most of them at the Quai Branly. Britain has also faced calls to return artefacts, notably the Elgin Marbles to Greece and the Benin Bronzes to Nigeria.

Museums in Belgium and Austria also house tens of thousands of African pieces.

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