Climate activists sentenced to prison for Vermeer protest

written by Oscar Holland, CNN

A Dutch court sent two Belgian climate change activists to prison on Wednesday over a protest against Johannes Vermeer’s painting “The Girl with a Pearl Earring”.

The protesters, who belong to the Just Stop Oil Belgium campaign group, were each given a two-month suspended prison sentence.

in Widely shared video In an incident last week at the Mauritius Museum in The Hague, a man was seen sticking his head on the famous artwork. Then another protester, not yet judged, poured a can of tomato soup over the first man’s shirt before sticking his hand against the wall. A third person filmed the stunt.

“How do you feel when you see something beautiful and priceless seemingly destroyed before your eyes?” One of the men asked the onlookers in English. “Do you feel angry? Good. Where does that feel when you see the planet being destroyed in front of our eyes?”

Police officers stand guard outside the Mauritius Museum shortly after the accident on October 27, 2022. attributed to him: Phil Niguesanb/ANP/AFP/Getty Images

Visitors to the exhibition can be heard yelling “obscene” and “shame on you”.

“This painting is protected by glass, it’s okay,” the protester continued. “Vulnerable people in the Global South, they are not protected. The future of our children is not protected.”

The museum said the 17th-century masterpiece was “undamaged” and returned to public display the next day. The Dutch public prosecutor added that the framework of the nineteenth century was damaged in the protest.

In a press release announcing the verdict, prosecutors said they wanted to “send a signal” to the activists, adding: “Art hanging there for all, for all to enjoy, is smeared by (defendants) who felt their message took precedence over everything else.”

Prosecutors had initially requested a four-month term, with a two-month suspension, but the judge said she did not want her ruling to dissuade other people from demonstrating, according to Reuters.

Related video: Why is art so expensive?

The two men went to trial through a swift ruling on charges of destruction and open violence against the painting. The third activist, who did not agree to speed up the trial, will appear in court on Friday. Prosecutors said the three were “jointly responsible” for the act.

The ruling follows a series of anti-fossil fuel demonstrations that have targeted art galleries, car showrooms and company headquarters in recent weeks. Last month, two protesters pelted Claude Monet’s “Hay Stacks” with mashed potatoes at the Barberini Museum in Potsdam, Germany. Meanwhile, two Just Stop Oil protesters have been charged with criminal tort offenses in the UK after they threw tomato soup on Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘sunflowers’.

In response to Wednesday’s court ruling, Just Stop Oil Belgium, which does not belong to Britain by the same name, told Reuters by email: “Isn’t it ironic that climate activists who peacefully oppose the mass slaughter of life on Earth are being condemned?”

Additional reporting from Reuters.

Top photo: Visitors look at Johannes Vermeer’s “The Girl with a Pearl Earring” at the Mauritius Museum in The Hague.

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