Belgium condemns students for the hazing of the death of Sanda Dia

Eighteen students who subjected a young black man to a notorious fraternity hazing ritual at a prestigious Belgian university, resulting in his death and sparking a national debate on racism, were found guilty of manslaughter on Friday and ordered to pay fines and to perform community service. .

Sanda Dia, a 20-year-old student at the Catholic University of Leuven, now known as KU Leuven, died of multiple organ failure in December 2018. He had been forced, alongside two other promises of brotherhood, binge drinking, drinking fish oil until he vomited, swallowed live goldfish, and stood outside in an ice-filled trench.

Friday’s decision by the Antwerp Court of Appeal appeared to put an end to a case that had worked its way through the Belgian court system for five years. The court found the 18 students guilty of manslaughter and degrading treatment, but acquitted them of culpable negligence and administering a noxious substance causing death or illness.

The students – all members of the Reuzegom fraternity, which traditionally attracts descendants of the country’s elite – were each ordered to perform 200 to 300 hours of community service and pay fines of 400 euros, or about 430 dollars.

The students, who have never been fully named in public, will also pay damages to Mr. Dia’s father, brother and mother-in-law, who will receive totals of 15,000 euros, 8,000 euros and 6 000 euros, or approximately $16,000, $8,500 and $6,400. The students will also pay Mr. Dia’s mother the amount she requested in damages: 1 euro.

Lawyers for the students argued Mr. Dia’s death was a tragic case of hazing gone wrong, and the students’ families fought to keep the conviction off their criminal records.

One of their lawyers, John Maes, hailed the decision on Friday as “balanced and well reasoned”, according to Belga, a Belgian news agency.

In comments to the Belgian press, a lawyer for the Dia family, Sven Mary, expressed his disappointment with the verdict.

“It is difficult for the family to hear that no one has been found guilty of culpable negligence or of administering fish oil,” Mr Mary said.

But he hinted that he would not advise the family to appeal the decision: “Do I recommend this to these people? I don’t know if I would do them a favor.

Because the students involved have not spoken publicly about the case, he added, the family would not know exactly what happened before Mr. Dia died.

“In the end, we didn’t get a response because of the boys’ silence,” he said. “We’ll never know. It’s hard for the family to deal with.”

After Mr Dia’s death, local media leaked details of the brotherhood, whose members included sons of judges, business leaders and politicians, angering many Belgians.

On another occasion, for example, fraternity members used a racial slur when ordering Mr. Dia to clean up after a party. A photo has also surfaced claiming to show a fraternity member wearing Ku Klux Klan robes. A fellowship speech referred to “our good German friend, Hitler”, and a video showed members singing a racist song about the brutal colonial history of Belgians in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Deleted WhatsApp messages recovered by police showed members of the fraternity trying to cover their tracks after the death.

“It was no accident,” Mr Dia’s brother Seydou De Vel said in a 2020 interview.

“They thought, ‘He’s just a black guy, we’re powerful and nothing can happen to us,'” his father, Ousmane Dia, said in an interview at the time.

The case has prompted many in the Dutch-speaking community of Flanders to confront long-standing questions about rampant racism, especially as details have emerged about the brotherhood alongside a belated reckoning of the history of Belgium to Congo and the spread of Black Lives Matter protests around the world.

Mr Maes appeared to allude to these wider debates, saying on Friday that the court had risen “above the war language of recent years”.

Others expressed outrage at the verdict. “Eighteen people humiliated and tortured Sanda Dia in 2018. No one intervened until it was too late,” Kenny Van Minsel, who was one of the body’s leaders, wrote in Dutch on Twitter. student at KU Leuven when Mr. Dia died. “Penalties, fines and no mention of culpable negligence. It is beyond madness.

After Mr. Dia’s death, the fraternity was disbanded, but some have accused the university of being slow to take disciplinary action against students.

After an initial investigation in 2019, the students involved were ordered to perform community service and write an article about the history of hazing. The following year, KU Leuven announced that it had opened a new investigation after gaining access to the criminal case file.

In 2021, the school announced “final disciplinary sanctions” against the seven students who were still enrolled in the university, expelling them and barring them from re-enrolling for several years or, in some cases, ever.

nytimes Eur

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