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Ex-fraternity members in Belgium found guilty over death of student

Eighteen former members of an elite university fraternity have been found guilty for their role in the death of a student during a brutal and degrading initiation ritual in 2018.

Sanda Dia was 20 when he died in hospital in December 2018 after he and two other first-year students endured two days of vicious hazing to enter the student fraternity, Reuzegom.

Dia was forced to drink excessive amounts of alcohol and fish oil, and made to sit in freezing water before he collapsed.

The students were found guilty for their role in the involuntary death of Dia and degrading treatment, but were acquitted of intentionally administering harmful substances resulting in death and wilful neglect, the court spokesperson, judge Els De Brauwer, said.

Sanda Dia’s father, Ousmane Dia, leaves court after the judgment. Photograph: Olivier Matthys/EPA

The students were given sentences of up to 300 hours of community service and a €400 fine each. The prosecution had sought sentences of up to 50 months in prison for some of them.

The high salt content in the fish oil was an important element in Dia’s death and the court ruled that the students could not have known about the potentially fatal impact on the freshman. De Brauwer said that once the students realised the seriousness of his condition, they tried to help Dia and get him to hospital.

The two other students were left seriously ill but their hazing was not part of the court case.

De Brauwer said all 18 who took part in the hazing were guilty because “they were all there. No one called a halt to it. No one questioned it.”

After Dia’s death, Belgian universities sought to make sure that the autumn initiation rituals for first-year students would be less degrading.

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