Student hazing: 'Sanda didn't cheat and it cost him his life'

Student hazing: 'Sanda didn't cheat and it cost him his life'
Lawyer Sven Mary and the father of Sanda Dia, Ousmane Dia. Credit: Belga

Day 2 of the trial against the 18 members of the student club Reuzegom from KU Leuven ended on Monday. It is more than three years after the death of Sanda Dia who died in 2018 after hazing initiation rituals.

All 18 defendants are guilty, said the Public Prosecutor, demanding that the president of the club and one of the students involved with planning the ritual receive between 50 and 60 months in prison. The others are facing 18 to 30 months.

"They promised that they would come here to tell the truth. It is their truth, but not THE truth," said Sven Mary, lawyer for the Dia family after the second day of the trial.

The seven remaining fraternity members who were not questioned on Friday were heard on Monday. But at crucial moments of the trial, they "forgot" who did what, just like the 11 who testified on Friday.

Sanda's father accuses student of lying

It was an emotional day at the court for Ousmane Dia, Sanda's father. He shouted at one of the club members known as 'Shrek": "You are lying!". 'Shrek' had just described how Sanda dug the well in Vorsellar in the run up to Dia's collapse from hypothermia, which was contradicted by other witnesses.

Dia had not been the only student to undergo brutal hazing rituals at Reuzegom, but cheating appeared to have saved the lives of the other students at the ritual according to their testimony on Monday.

One of them hid the fish under his tongue at the baptism and spit it out. Another pretended to pour the oil in, but let it drip down his chin. Sanda, however, wanted to 'do it right' and 'honestly' and drank from it which caused vomiting.

Dia's father couldn't hold back: "If you have been hit the hardest, how come my son is dead?," he asked one of them.

"I wish I had an explanation for that. But I think it's because I'm bigger and mostly because I cheated a lot more with that fish oil. Mr. Dia, I think Sanda's honesty killed him." came the reply.

Delayed trial

The 18 members of the Reuzegom fraternity, who are on trial for the death of Sanda Dia, appeared in court for the first day of the trial on Friday. They are expected to testify on who did what during the hazing ritual and how the 18 young men look back on events will be key.

The Reuzegom members have been charged with the wilful administration of harmful substances which resulted in the death in addition with the administration of poisonous substances resulting in incapacity for work, culpable negligence and violating the Animal Welfare Act.

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The process has been delayed for a long time after Sanda's death back in 2018. The Council Chamber in Hasselt began the investigation in September 2020 to figure out if the 18 fraternity members should be referred to court.

Some of them requested additional research on the matter, with the judicial investigation taking more than a year and a half. Further to this, the neutrality of one of the judges in the case was challenged.

What's next

On Monday, the relatives of Dia had their say assisted by Ousman Dia's lawyer Sven Mary. After the input of the civil parties and the relatives of Dia, the defense lawyers will plead individually for the 18 Reuzegom members in a process that will end at the end of this week.

The Public Prosecutor has asked for a fine of €1,000 and for the civil rights of the defendants to be stripped for five years, in addition to their prison sentences.

After having been suspended, the trial resumed at 14:00 on Tuesday.

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