Policeman gets suspended jail term over migrant child death

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FILE - In this Monday, Nov. 23, 2020 file photo, a man wears a protective face mask as he attends a solidarity event for Mawda Shawri at the courthouse in Brussels. A police officer was handed a one-year suspended prison sentence Friday, Feb. 12, 2021 following the shooting death of a two-year-old toddler who was in a van during a high-speed chase between police and suspected migrant smugglers seeking to get to Britain. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

BRUSSELS – A Belgian court handed a one-year suspended prison sentence to a police officer on Friday over the shooting death of a two-year-old toddler who was in a van during a high-speed chase of suspected migrant smugglers.

The court in the southern Belgian city of Mons ruled that the police officer’s version of an accidental shooting was credible but also found that he had a share of responsibility for the child's death.

According to local media, the van’s driver was sentenced to four years in prison while another alleged smuggler was acquitted. The smugglers were trying to reach Britain during the pursuit.

In May 2018, police wanted to check on a suspicious van making its way through Belgium and gave chase when the driver tried to evade them. Police shot at the van during the chase, striking two-year-old Kurd Mawda Shawri in the head. She later died of her injuries.

Belgian authorities said pursing officers shot at the car to try and stop it and had no intention of targeting the people inside. The police officer who took the shot said he tried to puncture the vehicle's left front tire and force it to come to a stop. In all, 30 people were in the van including Mawda’s brother and parents.

The police officer said he fired his weapon after the van swerved in the direction of the police car. The court said using a gun to puncture a tire was a disproportionate use of force that put the van’s passengers, as well as other road users, in danger.

Mawda’s death has become a symbol for many Belgians of the injustice that confronts migrants and refugees fleeing their homelands to seek a better life in Europe. On Friday, demonstrators gathered outside the courthouse to support Mawda’s family.

Earlier Friday, migration minister Sammy Mahdi told local broadcaster RTBF that Mawda’s parents have been granted permission to remain in Belgium indefinitely and would no longer need to annually renew a temporary residence permit.

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