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Just Stop Oil Activists Sentenced to Jail for Protesting Vermeer

Written by Oscar Holland, CNN

A Dutch court on Wednesday sent two Belgian climate change activists to jail for a protest against Johannes Vermeer’s painting ‘The Girl with a Pearl Earring’.

The protesters, who are part of the campaign group Just Stop Oil Belgium, were each sentenced to two months in prison, one of which was suspended.

In a widely shared video from last week’s incident at the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, a man is seen sticking his head on the famous piece of art. Another protester, who has yet to be convicted, then poured a can of tomato soup on the first man’s shirt before placing his own hand on a wall hanger. A third person filmed the stunt.

“How do you feel when you see something beautiful and priceless being seemingly destroyed right before your eyes?” one of the men asked the onlookers in English. “Do you feel outraged? Good. Where is that feeling when you see the planet destroying itself before our eyes?

Police officers stand guard outside the Mauritshuis museum shortly after the incident on October 27, 2022. Credit: Phil Nijhuisanp/ANP/AFP/Getty Images

Gallery visitors can be heard objecting with cries of “obscene” and “shame on you”.

“This painting is protected by glass, it’s very good,” continued the protester. “The vulnerable people in the countries of the South, they are not protected. The future of our children is not protected.”

The museum said the 17th-century masterpiece was “in good condition” and was returned to public view the next day. The Dutch public prosecutor’s office added that the 19th century frame was however damaged during the protest.

In a press release announcing the decision, prosecutors said they wanted to “send a signal” to activists, adding: “An artwork hanging there for everyone to enjoy has been smeared with ( the defendants) who felt their message. took precedence over everything else. »

Prosecutors had originally asked for four months, two of which were suspended, but the judge said she did not want her sentence to discourage others from protesting, according to Reuters.

Related video: Why is art so expensive?

The two men were tried by an expedited trial for destruction and open violence against the painting. The third activist, who disagreed with the speeding up of the trial, will appear in court on Friday. Prosecutors said all three were “jointly responsible” for the act, Reuters reported.

The decision follows a series of anti-fossil fuel protests targeting art galleries, car showrooms and corporate headquarters in recent weeks. Last month, two protesters pelted Claude Monet’s “Haystacks” painting with mashed potatoes at the Barberini Museum in Potsdam, Germany. Two Just Stop Oil protesters have meanwhile been charged with criminal offenses in the UK after they threw tomato soup at Vincent van Gogh’s ‘sunflowers’.

Responding to Wednesday’s court ruling, Just Stop Oil Belgium, which is not affiliated with its British namesake, told Reuters via email: “Isn’t it ironic that climate activists who nonviolently oppose the massive slaughter of life on Earth be condemned?”

Additional Reuters reporting.

Top image: Visitors look at Johannes Vermeer’s painting ‘The Girl with a Pearl Earring’ in the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague.

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