The university of Leuven has announced new sanctions on seven member of the fraternity involved in the initiation ritual that caused the death of one student in 2018.
Sanda Dia, aged 20, was taking part in the ritual to join the exclusive fraternity Reuzegom when he became ill, lost consciousness and had to be brought to hospital in December 2018. He died soon after.
An investigation revealed that during the initiation he had been forced to drink a large quantity of alcohol, as well as fish sauce, and had been forced to sit in a pool of water for hours on end.
When he arrived at the hospital it was discovered his body temperature was 27°C. He was also found to have an extraordinary level of salt in his blood as a result of drinking quantities of fish sauce.
The authorities brought charges against 18 members of the fraternity involved in the two-day ritual, in which two other students had to be hospitalised. At the hearing to decide which would face trial, however, lawyers for the defence filed a number of motions calling for further investigations to be carried out, and the case was continued.
In the beginning, when the case first became public, the university had applied sanctions against the students involved: they were made to write a paper on initiation rituals, and serve 30 hours of voluntary work.
“KU Leuven refuses to stand up for my son and sweeps the matter from the table with ridiculously low disciplinary sentences for the Reuzegommers,” Sanda’s father Ousmane Dia said in an interview with De Morgen at the time.
“Thirty hours of community service, and that’s it. Thirty hours for a dead boy and a devastated family.”
Equally dismayed, a group of more than 20 academics and researchers from the university wrote an open letter to KU Leuven rector Luc Sels.
“What signal are we sending to current and future students if none of the eighteen perpetrators have received any significant sanction to date?” they asked.
Now, the university’s disciplinary body has decided to apply additional sanctions to seven of the accused in the case who are still students at the university, suspending them for at least a year.
Their lawyers have already lodged an appeal, arguing that the university has already sanctioned the students, and cannot now do so again. “It is clear that the KU Leuven has given in to social pressure,” one defence lawyer said.
“My client is happy that the university authorities are finally starting to take the matter seriously after two years,” said Sven Mary, who represents Ousmane Dia.
The father, he said, “has said from the beginning that it is not about punishment, but about answers. He wants to know what happened to his son during that fatal ritual. He still doesn’t have those answers.”