The Antwerp Court of Appeal today issued its ruling in the case against eighteen former members of the Reuzegom fraternity, who subjected 20-year-old Sanda Dia to a brutal hazing.
Goldfish and ground mouse
Dia died from cardiac arrest in December 2018. During his ‘initiation’, he was forced to swallow live goldfish, eat a mouse that had been put in a blender and drink large quantities of fish sauce. He was also forced to sit in a pit of ice-cold water for several hours. The Reuzegom members failed to take Dia to a hospital quickly enough when things went badly wrong.
The prosecution held eighteen defendants liable for this and sought prison sentences ranging from 10 to 50 months. Eleven of the defendants asked to be acquitted, while seven others asked for lighter sentences.
They have now been sentenced to merely 200 to 300 hours of community service. They were also ordered to pay a 400 euro fine and must pay damages of thousands of euros to Dia’s parents and other family members.
The appeal court ruled that all the Reuzegom members were guilty of the ‘unintentional killing’ of Sanda Dia. They were also found guilty of degrading treatment and of breaching animal welfare legislation.
However, the court acquitted them of administering the salty fish sauce, which led to his death, stating that fish sauce is freely available, and most people are not aware of the fact that too much salt can be harmful.
They were also acquitted of ‘culpable negligence’ (for not helping him quickly enough): they simply did not realise in time how serious the situation was and thought he was merely hypothermic.
The fraternity, which was founded more than seventy years ago, was disbanded a few days after the deadly hazing. The members deleted videos and photos from their mobile phones and tried to erase any traces. It was a long time before they began to feel the consequences of their actions. It was not until 2021, for instance, that KU Leuven suspended the former members.
The criminal investigation and trial also took some time, partly because one of the suspects is the son of an Antwerp judge and the case initially had to be referred to another court.
It is possible that racist motives were involved. Dia was the son of a Senegalese father and a Belgian mother. However, this was not raised further during the trial.
Ook in Nederland zijn weleens studenten overleden aan een ontgroening. Dat gebeurde voor het laatst in 1997 in Groningen, toen een student te veel jenever moest drinken. In 1965 speelde de geruchtmakende roetkapaffaire: een aspirant-lid van het Utrechtsch Studenten Corps was gestikt tijdens de ontgroening en de daders kregen slechts lichte straffen opgelegd.