BRUSSELS -- Eighteen Belgian students were found guilty on Friday for their role in the 2018 death of a freshman university student during a brutal and degrading initiation ritual and were sentenced to community service and fines.
Sanda Dia was 20 when he died in a hospital in December 2018 after he, and two other first-year students, endured two days of vicious hazing to enter an elite 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, court spokesperson judge Els De Brauwer said.
The students were given sentences of up to 300 hours of community service and a 400-euro 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 realized the seriousness of his condition, they tried to help him 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.”
In the wake of the Dia's death, Belgian universities sought to make sure that the autumn initiation rituals for first-year students would be less degrading.