Student hazing: Sanda Dia trial resumes, 18 face charges

Student hazing: Sanda Dia trial resumes, 18 face charges
A large mural of Sanda Dia, the student who lost his life during a hazing ritual, seen on the facade of the Pieter De Somer aula in Leuven, Wednesday 21 September 2022. Credit: Belga / Ine Gillis

The trial over the death of student Sanda Dia in a KU Leuven hazing ritual resumed on Monday after having been put on hold in May 2022. The prosecution is seeking prison sentences of between 18 and 50 months for the 18 defendants from the Reuzegom fraternity.

Dia was a third-year engineering major at KU Leuven when he joined the Reuzegom fraternity in 2018. In order to become a full member, Dia along with other initiates was forced to complete extreme tasks which included ingesting things not fit for human consumption. The 20-year-old student died as a result of the hazing.

According to attorney general Annelies De Cauwer, all defendants actively and directly participated in the hazing ritual, Belga News Agency reports.

"They helped prepare for the hazing and encouraged students to perform. Without the organisers, there would have been no hazing and there would have been no crime. They are all responsible as perpetrators or co-perpetrators," she concluded.

The harshest sentence, 50 months in jail, was demanded for A.G., alias Janker, who reportedly took charge during the hazing ritual. Messages were found in which he asked to make the hazing "really brutal." During the first instance trial, a 60-month jail term was sought. Besides a prison sentence, he also risks a fine of €8,000.

What happened?

In December 2018, on Dia's second day of hazing, he was forced to drink large amounts of alcohol as well as fish sauce. He and his fellow initiates also had to eat a live goldfish and toast with mouse and eel spread on it.

That same day, he was forced to dig a grave for which he would lie in as Reuzegom members dumped ice-cold water on him. He was then forced to sit in the freezing pit for hours before being taken to the hospital.

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When Dia was brought to the hospital, his body temperature was 28.7°C and he could no longer speak. He then went into cardiac arrest and the doctor's efforts to resuscitate him failed. He died two days later on 7 December 2018 in the hospital. It was a large amount of salt in his system that ultimately killed him, according to experts.

Why was the trial put on hold?

The trial was initially put on hold in 2022 because the defendants would not admit who made Dia drink the fish sauce. The judge in turn proposed charging them with assault and battery.

Dia's family decided to appeal the judge's decision because they believed that it was important not to disregard the hazing events that took place before the fatal night.

The 18 defendants are being prosecuted for manslaughter. It is now up to the Antwerp Court of Appeal to decide whether the Hasselt court has jurisdiction.

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