Prosecutor files charges against 18 men involved in student’s death


20-year-old Sanda Dia died in 2018 following an initiation ceremony to join a student society at KU Leuven

Up to 10 years in prison

Eighteen months after a 20-year-old student died of organ failure after being forced to drink fish oil during a student club initiation ceremony, Limburg’s public prosecutor has decided to press charges against the 18 young men involved.

Sanda Dia (pictured) was made to drink fish oil and dangerous amounts of alcohol as well as stand in a pit of freezing cold water on a December night as part of the initiation ceremony organised by the Reuzegom student club at KU Leuven. Unconscious, dehydrated and in a state of hypothermia, the civil engineering student from Edegem, Antwerp, was taken to a hospital in Malle, where he died hours later.

Although KU Leuven took disciplinary action against the 18 members of the student club – they were required to perform 30 hours of community service each – no criminal charges have been filed pending investigation into the circumstances that led to Dia’s death.

However, Limburg’s public prosecutor confirmed on Friday that it had referred criminal proceedings against the 18 students and former students to a local court of first instance. The case had to be moved from Antwerp province, where the initiation took place, to Limburg because one of the accused is the son of an Antwerp judge.

The prosecutor has asked Limburg's criminal court to prosecute the former Reuzegom club members on charges of degrading treatment, administration of harmful substances and manslaughter. The charges carry prison sentences of two to 10 years. 

Punishment criticised

The court will decide in early September whether the members of the club – which has since been disbanded – will have to appear in court. Most of the 18 Reuzegom members were pursuing law or engineering degrees. KU Leuven’s decision not to suspend any of the men has prompted heavy criticism, with some commentators arguing that the students received light punishments because they came from wealthy families.

Others have pointed to the racial dynamic of the case – Dia was black, while all the Reuzegom members were white – and questioned whether the men would have received equally mild punishments if Sanda had been white and the Reuzegom members black.

A  “JusticeForSanda” petition calling for the 18 men to be charged and convicted has drawn more than 10,000 signatures.