Activists on trial over attempt to steal African staff


Quai Branly museum

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image captionThe staff was stolen from the Quai Branly museum in Paris (File image)

A Congolese activist and four others have gone on trial in France accused of trying to steal a staff from a museum.

Emery Mwazulu Diyabanza grabbed the 19th Century African funeral staff at the Quai Branly museum in Paris in June. He said on social media he had come to claim Africa’s stolen property.

Museum guards stopped the group and police detained them.

There has been increasing debate about whether former colonial powers should hold cultural artefacts from Africa.

Earlier this year a prince of Benin called on a museum in the English city of Bristol to return one of thousands of articles looted during the colonial era.

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The five people who went on trial on Tuesday are accused of attempted theft of a registered artwork.

Prosecutors have asked for a fine of €1,000 (£907) for Mr Diyabanza and €500 each for his alleged accomplices.

Mr Diyabanza is reported to have carried out similar actions at museums in Marseille and Berg en Dal in the Netherlands.

After his arrest in June, Mr Diyabanza, 41, sued the French state accusing it of “theft and receiving state goods”.

He has criticised the French government’s speed in returning artefacts to African nations.

President Emmanuel Macron vowed to look at the return of some African cultural treasures following his election win in 2017.

A 2018 report commissioned by Mr Macron said there were about 90,000 African works in French museums but said not all were pillaged or stolen.

So far, a ceremonial sword has been sent back to Senegal and the government has promised to return 26 works to Benin, news agency AFP reports.

Mr Diyabanza said: “Macron recognises the looting but it is he who decides the quantity of works returned and whether there should be transfer of ownership to us.”

A verdict on the trial is expected next month.

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