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Climate activists who targeted famous Vermeer painting win court appeal against jail sentence

Three Belgian climate activists who were previously sentenced to prison for a protest targeting Johannes Vermeer’s painting “Girl with a Pearl Earring” will no longer face any punishment for their actions, a Dutch court of appeal ruled on Monday.

The demonstrators, who are part of the campaign group Just Stop Oil Belgium, were originally given two-month jail sentences for their protest, which took place in October 2022 at the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, the Netherlands.

One man glued his head to the glass protecting the famous painting, while another threw tomato soup over the first man and then glued his own hand to the wall. A third man filmed the demonstration.

Johannes Vermeer's painting "Girl with a Pearl Earring" was targeted by climate activists in October 2022. - Lex Van Lieshout/ANP/AFP/Getty Images
Johannes Vermeer's painting "Girl with a Pearl Earring" was targeted by climate activists in October 2022. - Lex Van Lieshout/ANP/AFP/Getty Images

The museum said after the incident that 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.

The men were convicted of causing destruction and damage to the painting, as well as public violence, a spokesperson for The Hague Court of Appeal told CNN, adding that the protestors spent 23 days in detention before the trial.

Given the length of time that the demonstrators spent in pre-trial detention, the court said, a prison sentence would have been excessive.

The court spokesperson told CNN that it also did not want to discourage others who wish to peacefully protest or exercise their right to freedom of expression. To punish these activists severely might have a “chilling effect” on others, the court said in a media statement.

CNN has reached out to the Mauritshuis museum for comment.

Just Stop Oil Belgium is not affiliated with its British namesake, environmental activist group Just Stop Oil. CNN was unable to contact the Belgian organization directly but has reached out to Extinction Rebellion Belgium for comment, as it has previously issued statements on behalf of Just Stop Oil Belgium.

CNN’s Oscar Holland contributed to this report.

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