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Trial of three involved in shooting of two-year old Mawda begins in Mons

19:15 23/11/2020

The trial of the police officer who shot at a speeding van, killing a two-year-old child, began today in Mons. The incident happened near the city in 2018.

The toddler, Mawda Shawri, her brother and their parents were fleeing Kurdish Iraq and being transported with 30 other transmigrants through Belgium. Their ultimate destination was the UK, but they were spotted by police in Namur province, who were patrolling a truck parking area, looking for signs of human trafficking.

When the van left the parking area, taking to the E42, two police vehicles followed. One pulled in front of the van, and the other to the left, making clear to the driver that he should pull over at the next exit.

The van began to follow one of the police cars up the exit, but then swerved back onto the motorway, causing the other police car to swerve and ram another car. A chase began, and back-up was requested from Hainaut province as the van was about to cross the provincial border.

In the meantime, the transmigrants broke the glass in the back of the van and began throwing things out, a move, they claimed, to show police that the van was full of people.

The communication between the police patrols did not go smoothly, with messages being passed back and forth through each of their central commands. Eventually, one of the officers tried to shoot out the tire of the van, but the other officer driving the car swerved slightly when the shot went off, and the bullet hit Mawda in the forehead.

The van finally pulled over in a parking area and an ambulance was called, but the toddler died on the way to hospital. In the confusion, the driver of the van fled and was picked up a few months later in the UK.

Upheaval

The case has caused a great deal of protest among human rights groups in Belgium for numerous reasons. According to the parents, it took 20 minutes for an ambulance to arrive once the van pulled over.

Police would not allow the parents to ride in the ambulance with their daughter, instead jailing them for the night with the rest of the occupants of the van. Only to release them the next day – together with all the other transmigrants, even though it was unclear what role each individual played in human trafficking or in evading the police. The transmigrants simply disappeared, but one of them was later arrested, along with the driver who had originally fled the scene.

Also, the police officers involved could not keep their stories straight, with different versions emerging – from the claim that Mawda fell out of the van to that she was used to break the glass in the back of the van to that the refugees also fired shots.

Further, it turned out that the French police had attached a GPS tracker to the van in order to follow its movements. The judicial police in East Flanders knew about this activity, but the traffic police did not.

Justice 4 Mawda

The police officer who fired the shot is being tried on charges of involuntary manslaughter, which carries a sentence of three months to two years. The other two are being tried on charges of human trafficking and malicious obstruction of traffic that led to death. Those carry much stiffer sentence of 20 to 30 years.

The citizen action group Justice 4 Mawda has staged protest marches, hung posters and today strung up washing lines filled with children’s clothing at justice centres across the country. Organisers have also reached out to local and international celebrities to support the cause. This has been remarkably successful, with British musicians Peter Gabriel and Roger Waters, as well as filmmaker Ken Loach making videos in support of a conviction of the police officer and a reform of the immigration system.

“We want #Justice4Mawda,” reads the Facebook page. “That means that the agent should be convicted for what he actually did. This also means that all lies and manipulation by the police and the prosecutor's office must be exposed. And that also means that the crushing responsibility of the Belgian government and its migration policy must be uncovered, exposed and addressed.”

Photo: A photo of Mawda Shawri pinned to the lapel of a mourner at her funeral in 2018
©Laurie Dieffembacq/BELGA

Written by Lisa Bradshaw