Deadly hazing, “class justice”… Back to the Sanda Dia case

Eighteen defendants, 18 convictions. No acquittal was pronounced on Friday for the schoolmates of Sanda Dia, a Belgian student who died following a violent hazing. The sentences handed down by the Antwerp Court of Appeal, however, aroused emotion. The 18 defendants were sentenced to hours of community service and a fine of 400 euros for assault and battery that involuntarily resulted in death. A sentence judged lenient by the family as well as by hundreds of people who took to the streets on Sunday to protest against the judgment rendered. Circumstances of the death, social origins of the defendants, sentence pronounced… Back on this affair which shook Belgium.

When and how did Sanda die?

From Antwerp, born to a Mauritanian father, Sanda Dia, 20, began his engineering studies at the prestigious Catholic University of Louvain (KU Leuven) in the fall of 2018. On December 4, the day after a sale of roses in the street from which he had come out badly classified, he had had to swallow a phenomenal quantity of alcohol. The investigation showed that after several beers, he had drunk a liter of gin on his own, and that the objective was not to let him sober. The sink faucet in her Leuven apartment had been taped shut to prevent her from hydrating.

The next day, the trials continued around an isolated chalet on the outskirts of Antwerp. This time, the “rookie” had to stay outside in the cold in a hole filled with ice water, after swallowing a mixture of fish oil. During this infernal hazing, the student was also subjected to “the forced ingestion of dog porridge and a kneaded mouse, animal torture and watering with urine”, says The world. When Sanda Dia was admitted on the evening of December 5 to the emergency room of a nearby hospital, his body temperature fell to 28.7 degrees, hypothermia making “any blood test impossible”, said during the first trial in 2021 one of the doctors who examined him.

The student is quickly transferred to intensive care in another hospital. His death was recorded on December 7. The fatal cerebral edema resulted from abnormally high sodium levels in his body, according to the medical record.

What are the penalties imposed?

Sentences ranging from eighteen to fifty months in prison were demanded in March, during the trial before the Antwerp Court of Appeal (north). But the court was more lenient, notably dismissing the prevention of “administration of a noxious substance resulting in death. A reference to the very salty mixture of fish oil that the “probie” had to swallow, and which the doctors considered to be the cause of the fatal cerebral edema.

The 18 students of the Reuzegommers fraternity are sent back to correctional two years after the facts. All are finally all found guilty of “assaults causing death without intention to give it. “They are punished, depending on the case, with 200, 250 or 300 hours of community service – “labor penalties” according to Belgian terminology – as well as a fine of 400 euros, not to mention the thousands of euros in damages and interest due to civil parties. In addition to the administration of harmful substance, the court also rejected the prevention of “non-assistance to person in danger.” Members of the Reuzegom fraternity behind the hazing “took action as soon as they saw he was in danger,” an appeals court spokeswoman commented, citing the motives of the stop. After the episode of the ice water well, “they gave him dry clothes, tried to warm him up”.

How did Sanda Dia’s family react?

The decision was greeted by the Dia family with “relief” and “frustration”, in the words of Sven Mary, the father’s lawyer. During the trial, the latter, Ousmane Dia, had said that putting the culprits in prison “would not give him back his son”, recalled the lawyer. However, “they did not receive the answers they hoped for, in particular because of the silence of the Reuzegommers”, lamented Me Mary. He castigated the “omerta” which reigned throughout the procedure within the student circle at the origin of this hazing. The lawyer also believes in an interview with the Belgian media humor “that the long legal process played in favor of the Reuzegommers”.

Sven Mary goes a little further in the interpretation of the judgment. This fraternity, since dissolved, brought together young people from privileged backgrounds who intend to pursue a career with great responsibilities. The defendants are no exception. However, “if their criminal record contains the words ‘accidental homicide’ and ‘degrading treatment’, this will have an impact on their job opportunities”, the lawyer further analyzes in the Belgian press: “these guys also all want hold positions of responsibility: judge, entrepreneur, politician. Well, I think people should know what politicians have done in their lives if they want to vote for them. »

Why did the Belgians demonstrate?

About 1,500 people, mostly students and families, demonstrated in Brussels on Sunday in memory of the mixed-race student. “Justice for Sanda”, “silence kills”, could be read on the signs held up by the demonstrators in the Belgian capital. Another demonstration brought together a thousand people on Sunday afternoon in Ghent, in Flanders (north), according to the local police quoted by the Belga press agency. It was organized by several associations fighting against discrimination.

One of the organizers of the Brussels rally, Jean Kitenge, denounced to AFP “class justice”. “Would the sentence have been the same if the perpetrators had been black or North African like me? “, he questioned, also calling for” to frame student folklore more. This Belgian-Congolese student, saying he was personally affected by the affair, recalled that Sanda Dia was not from the same social background and the same skin color as the organizers of the hazing. Sons of the Flemish “elite”, according to him. The rally was symbolically organized in front of the Brussels Courthouse, nine days after the judicial epilogue, in Antwerp (north), of this file which had a big impact, particularly in Dutch-speaking Belgium.

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