A shocking case of hazing has rocked Belgium, as court documents reveal the distressing details of a ritual that led to the tragic death of a 20-year-old student, Sanda Dia. The initiation ceremony, part of the process to join the prestigious Reuzegom fraternity at one of Belgium’s top universities, involved extreme acts of humiliation and physical distress. The students were sentenced to community service and fines, sparking outrage and raising questions about race and justice in the country.

Harrowing court documents describe how Mr Dia was subjected to excessive fish oil and alcohol consumption, forced to swallow a live goldfish, and made to endure icy conditions in an outdoor pit. Tragically, he collapsed during the initiation and passed away two days later in the hospital. A coroner’s report identified toxic salt levels resulting from the fish oil as a leading cause of his death.

After more than four years, the court handed down sentences to 18 students involved in Mr Dia’s involuntary death and degrading treatment. Each student received up to 300 hours of community service and a fine of €400 ($430; £340). They were also ordered to pay damages to Mr Dia’s family, as well as two others who were subjected to the hazing. However, the court ruled the students were not guilty of intentionally causing death or illness through harmful substances.

The case shed light on allegations of racism within the Reuzegom fraternity, including claims that Mr Dia was subjected to racial slurs and singled out for cleaning duties due to his race. Reports in the media further suggested that some members of Reuzegom came from privileged backgrounds, with connections to politicians and judges. The leniency of the sentences has sparked indignation among Belgians, with the hashtag #justiceforsanda gaining traction on TikTok and protests taking place in several cities.

While some argue that the hazing culture at Belgian universities involves varying levels of humiliation, others insist that race played a significant role in Mr Dia’s tragic death. The court’s ruling has left Mr Dia’s family with mixed emotions, as they still seek answers about his final hours and those responsible for administering the fatal fish oil. The disbandment of the Reuzegom fraternity and sanctions imposed by the university demonstrate the recognition of the gravity of the incident, but nothing can alleviate the grief caused by Sanda’s untimely death.

This case serves as a stark reminder of the dangers of hazing rituals and the urgent need to address issues of racism and inequality in society. The Belgian justice system faces scrutiny, as calls for justice and accountability resonate among young people, social media users, and student communities. The tragic loss of Sanda Dia must not be forgotten, and efforts to prevent similar incidents and foster a more inclusive and just environment must continue.