BELGIUM - NEW COURT PROCEEDINGS TO START IN EXORCISM CASE OF WOMAN'S DEATH
Willy Fautré, Chairman - Human Rights Without Frontiers
HRWF (16.04.2012) - www.hrwf.net - On August 6, 2004, Latifa Hachmi, then 23 years old, died during an exorcism that looked more torture than religious ceremony. After she had given up hope of being able to have children, Latifa and her husband decided to see an exorcist from a non-profit organization named "La Plume." The exorcist told them that the cause of her problem was possession by the devil and that she needed to be purified. Two months of treatment ended with her drowning in a bathtub.
According to the family, Latifa, who died following repeated sessions of exorcism, suffered numerous tortures (as defined by new articles 417a and 417b of the penal code which provides for a punishment of 20 to 30 years). At the first trial, guru Abdelkim Aznagui was aquitted and the sentences of his accomplices were suspended.
After fighting for eight years, the oldest brother of Latifa, Fouad Hachmi, an artist well-known in Brussels, finally succeeded in having the criminal court declared incompetent so that the facts of the case will now be retried in the Court of Assizes. It is a first for Belgium. The new proceedings will begin next May.
Married, Latifa was distraught because she was not able to have children. The couple could have consulted a doctor: instead they went to see "La Plume", a non-profit organization located on Waelhem Street in Schaerbeek led by Aznagui. Aznagui is 55-years old and drives tow trucks. According to him, Latifa could not have children because she was possessed by the devil. The only way to drive the devil out was to drink water, while verses from the Quran were recited, and then vomit it out. The evil spirits would leave in the vomiting.
The sessions of purification, as they were called, lasted from June to August in 2004. When Latifa died on August 6, Dr. Bonbled found multiple bruises on the face and scalp, evidence of strangulation and asphyxiation on the neck, a cerebral oedema, a pulmonary oedema, 43 bruises on the legs, and as many bruises on the arms of Latifa who had protected herself by laying in a fetal position.
The last roquia (exorcism) lasted 36 hours. Since the beginning of June, Latifa, who was being starved, ate only yogurt.
The exorcism also included brain washing treatments. For 24 straight hours, including during her sleep, headphones, stuck to her ears, repeated over and over the same verses. A ritual stick used to hit Latifa, probably the handle of a brush covered with "holy inscriptions," has not been recovered. The exorcists chased the devil away by hitting Latifa "in places on the body where he appeared." Another procedure consisted of pulling the devil out by hand from the "back of the vagina" or by pushing fingers deeply into her throat "descending toward the heart" and pulling him out through the mouth.
In the end, Latifa, was plunged into the water of a bathtub. When she struggled to be free, a convert, a certain Xavier Meert, subdued the young woman by binding her wrists and knees and by holding her head under water. At least once, Latifa, fighting back, pulled Meert's beard; Meert slapped her in the face.
Latifa's husband also slapped her in the face. She lost consciousness. No one called 100 (the number to call for medical emergencies). Mazouj, Latifa's husband, wanted to revive his wife by pushing on her stomach. Three glasses of water spurted out of her mouth. Latifa had died.
The doctor detected multiple bruises to her face and scalp, as well as evidence on the neck of asphyxiation and strangulation, and 43 bruises on the legs and as many on the arms.
Fouad's reports that he has on many occasions, acting in behalf of his family, denounced the inertia of government officials, as well as the indifference of both the Islamic Center and of the Muslim Executive of Belgium for not fighting to eradicate the shadowy practices ever present in the community.
The Center for Information and Advice on Harmful Sectarian Organizations (CIAOSN), a national institution charged with warning the country when a religious group presents a danger, especially in order to maintain public order and health, has remained silent and has not sounded the alarm against this sectarian deviation in the heart of Belgian Islam.
In 2011, the General Prosecutor's Office in Brussels asked for the retrial before the Court of Assize, of the six accused individuals for acts of "torture, in this case a deliberate inhuman treatment which produced a severe pain or very serious or cruel physical suffering or threats, causing death, without the intention of to kill." This is a first in Belgium. It is the successful outcome of supplemental instruction conferred on the investigating judge, Hervé Louveaux, on May 14 2009, by the Appeals Court of Brussels.
It is a 180 degree reversal for the justice system in Brussels which had earlier decided that the case belonged under the jurisdiction of the criminal court, accompanied by charges that were much lighter than "torture" (failure to help a person in danger, etc.). It is a victory for the family of the victim, the plaintiffs, represented by Mr. Jean-Paul Tieleman. The prosecutor is asking that the six accused be tried by the Assizes on the basis of articles 417a and 417b. They could face up to 30 years of prison. The six in question that will face trial are the presumed exorcist Abdelkrim Aznagui, 58 years old; Xavier Meert, 43 years old; Mourad Mazouj, 33 years old, husband of the victim; and three women from Brussels: Hayate, 29 years old, Fatima, 40 years old, and Jamila, 43 years old.