Activists face fines for trying to ‘return’ African art in France

Five activists went on trial in Paris on Wednesday for trying to seize an African funeral staff from France’s pre-eminent indigenous art museum as part of a campaign to pressure the government into restituting items they claim were stolen.

Emery Mwazulu Diyabanza, a 41-year-old Congolese, led the operation at the Quai Branly museum last June, condemning “the pillage of Africa”.

“We’re taking it home,” he said in a video posted on social media after removing the 19th-century funeral staff from Chad and parading it around the building.

Since then Diyabanza has staged similar operations at indigenous art museums in the southern French city of Marseille and in Berg en Dal in the Netherlands.

“We had no intention of stealing this work, but we will continue as long as the injustice of pillaging Africa has not been remedied,” Diyabanza told AFP ahead of the trial.

He and four others are charged with attempted theft of a registered artwork and risked up to 10 years in prison and 150,000 euros ($176,000) in fines.

But prosecutors on Wednesday asked for fines of 1,000 euros ($1,200) against Diyabanza and 500 euros against his accomplices.

Diyabanza himself sued the French state after his arrest in June, accusing it of “theft and receiving stolen goods” in amassing a huge collection of native artworks beginning in the colonial era.

However, the presiding judge told the court, “We are here to judge an infringement, not to judge history.”

A verdict is expected on October 14.

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