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Suspended sentence sought for Belgian cop who shot child

Belgian prosecutors asked a court Tuesday to impose a suspended sentence on a police officer who opened fire on a vanload of migrants, killing a two-year-old Kurdish girl.

Victor-Manuel Jacinto Goncalves, 48, was charged with involuntary homicide. He told the court he would not have shot at the vehicle if he had known migrants were inside.

He could have faced up to five years in prison for such a charge, but prosecutors told the court in Mons on the second day of his trial that they would seek only one year, suspended.

The death of young Mawda has become a symbol for migrant rights activists arguing against what they see as Belgium’s “dehumanisation” of undocumented migrants.

Goncalves on Monday expressed regret over the girl’s death saying it had left him “shattered”.

“If I’d known there was a child, I never would have pulled out my gun,” he told the court.

The prosecution on Tuesday stressed the danger of shooting at a moving vehicle, saying that “any reasonable man” would have held his fire.

However a member of the prosecution team, quoted by the RTBF public broadcaster, added that “there is no evidence that the police officer knowingly, wilfully, deliberately wanted to harm the life of another”.

– ‘Double standards’ –

Overnight on May 16, 2018, a van driven by suspected people traffickers — two of them, also Iraqi Kurds, on trial alongside the officer — left Grande-Sythe in northern France and began travelling across Belgium.

Goncalves insists he fired the shot to give the van a “slow puncture” and end a high-speed motorway chase he felt put him and a fellow officer in danger.

Instead, his bullet hit Mawda who was in the vehicle with her parents and two dozen fellow migrants, including other children.

Prosecutors are seeking hefty prison terms for the Iraq Kurd suspects, Jargew Del, 20, and Rasol Dilman Ahmed, 27 who are also on trial, .

French police had the alleged gang under surveillance and had fitted the van with a GPS tracker, but their Belgian colleagues did not know this. When the van accelerated to escape them, they gave chase.

For migrants’ rights activists and supporters of Mawda’s family, the case has come to symbolise the dangers of taking a criminal law approach to irregular migration and of “dehumanising” refugees arriving in Europe.

Mawda’s parents, who left Iraq in 2015 and intended to head to Britain, ended up settling in Belgium after her death. They were granted residency in Belgium on humanitarian grounds.

Lawyers representing the family said the defendant should have faced a tougher charge than that of involuntary homicide.

Lawyer Alexis Deswaef of the Human Rights League, one of the groups supporting Mawda’s parents, took issue at the big difference in the sentences sought for the prosecution, a suspended term for Goncalves and 10- and 7-year prison terms for the suspected people traffickers.

“This double standard is difficult to accept,” he told AFP.

Tuesday was the last day of the trial hearing, after which the court retires to consider its verdict.