“We are taking it home,” he said in a video posted to social media after removing 19th-century funeral staff and parading them around the building.
Since then, Diyabanza has organized similar operations in indigenous art museums in Marseille, in the south of France, and in Berg en Dal in the Netherlands.
“We had no intention of stealing this work, but we will continue until the injustice of looting Africa is corrected,” Diyabanza told AFP ahead of the trial.
He and four others are charged with attempted theft of a recorded work of art and face up to 10 years in prison and a € 150,000 ($ 176,000) fine.
But prosecutors on Wednesday asked for fines of € 1,000 ($ 1,200) against Diyabanza and € 500 ($ 585) against his accomplices.
Diyabanza himself prosecuted the French state after his arrest in June, accusing him of “stealing and receiving stolen goods” by amassing a huge collection of indigenous works of art from the colonial era.
However, the presiding judge told the court, “We are here to judge an offense, not to judge history.”
A verdict is expected on October 14.
French officials condemned the coup, which followed President Emmanuel Macron’s promise, soon after his election in May 2017, to look into the return of African cultural treasures.
France has since returned a ceremonial sword to Senegal and has promised to return to Benin 26 dozen works – including a royal throne – which were seized by French troops at the end of the 19th century.During a visit to Benin in December 2019, former Minister of Culture Franck Riester said the works of art would be returned “sometime in 2020, possibly early 2021”.
“The question of restitution … deserves a serious debate”, declared Emmanuel Kasarherou, director of Quai Branly, civil party in the lawsuit against Diyabanza.
Kasarherou, a member of the indigenous Kanak people of the French overseas territory of New Caledonia, this year became the first native to lead a large French national museum.
His museum “documents the origins of its collections and how they were obtained, and using this work as a basis, we can move forward,” he told AFP.
Critics accuse the French state of not doing enough, citing the auction of sacred statues in Paris despite Nigeria’s demands to stop the sale.
An expert report commissioned by Macron in 2018 counted some 90,000 African works in French museums, but suggested a “circulation” of certain works between museums rather than an outright return, claiming that not all were looted or stolen.
“Macron acknowledged the looting, but it is he who decides how many works returned and whether or not to transfer ownership – it is an insult to us,” Diyabanza said.