A prominent activist who attempted to remove a 19th-century African funeral pole from a Paris museum will not receive a prison sentence, a French court said on Wednesday.
Mwazulu Diyabanza, who led a group of activists that tried to take the object outside the Musée du Quai Branly–Jacques Chirac in Paris this past June, will not receive 10 years in prison. Instead, the Congolese activist will merely be fined €2,000 ($2,320)—hundreds of thousands fewer euros than the maximum fine he could have received.
For many in France, Diyabanza’s trial was a symbol of how—or whether—the country could grapple with its history of colonialism. The Quai Branly, in particular, has become emblematic of those debates, with activists and historians saying that the museum’s extensive holdings of objects from Africa were largely plundered from the continent. In 2019, Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, promised to repatriate 26 objects looted from Benin by 2021.
This past June, amid Black Lives Matter protests in Paris, Diyabanza and other activists from the group Les Marrons Unis Dignes et Courageux live-streamed themselves taking the funeral pole. Security officers at the institution kept the activists from bringing the pole outside museum walls.
During the trial, Diyabanza had argued that he never intended to steal the pole and that the removal of it from a gallery at the Quai Branly ought to be considered a protest.
Diyabanza, who has also staged protests at the Museum of African, Oceanic and Native American Arts in Marseille and the Afrika Museum in Berg en Dal, the Netherlands, told the New York Times earlier this year, “Anywhere that our artworks and heritage are locked up, we will go and get them.”