Credit: Lex Van Lieshout/ANP/AFP/Getty Images
Climate activists sentenced to prison for Vermeer protest
A Dutch court sent two Belgian climate change activists to prison Wednesday for a protest targeting Johannes Vermeer's painting "Girl with a Pearl Earring."
The demonstrators, who are part of the campaign group Just Stop Oil Belgium, were each given sentences of two months, one of which was suspended.
In a widely shared video of last week's incident at the Mauritshuis museum in the Hague, a man is seen gluing his head to the famous artwork. Another protester, who is yet to be sentenced, then poured a can of tomato soup on the first man's shirt before affixing his own hand to a wall mounting. A third person filmed the stunt.
"How do you feel when you see something beautiful and priceless being apparently destroyed before your eyes?" one of the men asked onlookers in English. "Do you feel outraged? Good. Where is that feeling when you see the planet being destroyed before our very eyes?"
Gallery visitors can be heard objecting with cries of "obscene" and "shame on you."
"This painting is protected by glass, it's just fine," 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 it was returned to public view the next day. The Netherlands Public Prosecution Service added that the 19th-century frame had, however, been damaged in the protest.
In a press release announcing ruling, the prosecutors said they had wanted to "send out a signal" to activists, adding: "An artwork hanging there for everyone, all of us to enjoy, has been smeared by (defendants) who felt their message took precedence over everything else."
Prosecutors had initially asked for four months, with two suspended, but the judge said she did not want her sentence to discourage other people from demonstrating, according to Reuters.
The two men went to trial through a fast-track judgment on charges of destruction and open violence against the painting. The third activist, who did not agree with the trial being fast-tracked, will appear in court on Friday. Prosecutors said all three are "jointly responsible" for the act, Reuters said.
The ruling follows a string of anti-fossil-fuel demonstrations targeting art galleries, car showrooms and company headquarters in recent weeks. Last month, two demonstrators 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 damage offenses in the UK after they threw tomato soup on Vincent van Gogh's "Sunflowers."
Responding to court Wednesday's ruling, Just Stop Oil Belgium, which is not affiliated with its British namesake, told Reuters by email: "Isn't it ironic that climate activists who nonviolently oppose the mass slaughter of life on Earth are being condemned?"
Additional reporting by Reuters.
Top image: Visitors looks at Johannes Vermeer's painting "Girl with a Pearl Earring" at the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague.