Trial opens in death of toddler in migrant smuggling case

BRUSSELS (AP) — A trial opened Monday in the shooting death of a two-year-old toddler who was in a van during a high-speed chase in Belgium between police and suspected migrant smugglers seeking to get to Britain.

At the trial in Belgium’s southern city of Mons, a policeman stands accused of involuntary manslaughter and two other men for being suspected migrant smugglers.

In May 2018, police wanted to check on a suspicious van making its way through Belgium and went after it when the driver sought to evade them. During the high-speed chase, police shot at the van and two-year-old Kurdish girl Mawda Shawri was hit in the head and later died.

Belgian authorities said a shot was fired to stop the car and had no intention of targeting the people inside. Her death has become a symbol of injustice toward migrants and refugees fleeing their homelands to seek a better life in Europe.

Outside the courthouse Monday, a few dozen people stood with banners reading “Justice for Mawda.” In Brussels, other demonstrators hung up pieces of children’s clothing on a line during during a solidarity event at the main courthouse.

The trial will focus on the shot and why it was deemed necessary to try to bring the van to a stop in that way. In all, 30 people were in the van, including Mawda’s brother and parents.

The policeman faces up to two years in prison. The suspected smugglers face up to 30 years in prison.

After the start of the trial, it was quickly suspended Monday because of translation problems to the Kurdish language, but it was expected to resume later in the day.

Among those who have supported the “Justice For Mawda” cause on social media are musicians Peter Gabriel and Roger Waters and British director Ken Loach.

“These are people who are fleeing terror, frightened for their lives, freeing across Europe, the most exploited, the most endangered people — the poorest, most vulnerable people we can imagine,” Loach said, arguing that such people should not be shot at.

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