Five activists go on trial in Paris for claiming African artwork from museum

IN Paris five activists have today gone on trial for attempting to steal an African funeral staff from France’s Quai Branly museum last year.

41-year-old Congolese activist, Emery Mwazulu Diyabanza, was the leader of the operation last June, which looked to increase pressure on the French government to return items they say were stolen during “the pillage of Africa”.

After removing the 19th-century funeral staff, he paraded it around the museum whilst claiming “We’re taking it home,” in a video posted on social media

The activist has staged further reclamations art museums who display indigenous artefacts since then. Also targeting Marseilles in France and Berg en Dal, in the Netherlands.

Diyabanza has said, “It was important to approach this trial with a combative spirit, even if it’s risky.”

He added, “We had no intention of stealing this work, but we will continue as long as the injustice of pillaging Africa has not been remedied.”

The five activists face up to 10 years in prison and €150,000 in fines if found guilty of the charges of attempted theft of a registered artwork.

After his arrest in June, Diyabanza himself sued the French state after accusing it of “theft and receiving stolen goods” by holding such a large collection of native artwork.

This followed French President Emmanuel Macron’s promise to work on the restitution of African cultural treasures after he was elected and a ceremonial sword was returned to Senegal two-dozen works were to be returned to Benin.

Emmanuel Kasarherou, director of the Quai Branly Museum said: “The issue of restitution… deserves a serious debate.”

He added that his museum, “is documenting the origins of its collections and how they were obtained, and using this work as a basis, we can move forward.”

Diyabanza said, “Macron has acknowledged the pillaging, but he’s the one who decides how many works are returned, and whether or not there should be a property transfer — it’s an insult for us.”

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