A court in Brussels opened on Monday the trial of six people charged in connection with the 2004 murder of a young Muslim woman in a deadly act of exorcism, a practice of evicting demons or other spiritual entities from a person believed to be possessed.
The woman was reportedly deceived into believing that she could not have children because she was possessed and that she had to undergo a practice of exorcism.
But the woman apparently could not stand the severe punishment the exorcism allegedly entails to scourge the demon out of the body, and she lost her life.
The detainees in the case include two self-appointed exorcists, the victim’s husband and three female members of a radical Muslim group, will be standing trial for three weeks and facing charges of “torture leading to death.” If they are convicted, they face up to 30 years in prison.
Hours after Latifa Hachmi, 23, died in the evening of Aug. 5, 2004, her husband, Mourad Mazouj, made an emergency call reporting that his wife was feeling ill and stuck in the bathroom.
But the hypothesis of a natural death was quickly dismissed, as her body was found covered with bruises and her lungs filled with water.
Her husband later admitted to investigators that his wife was subjected month-long sessions of exorcism to evict from her body the demons that “prevented her from becoming pregnant.”
The practice was conducted in the couple’s apartment in Brussels by Abdelkrim Aznagui, a Moroccan self-proclaimed “Sheik” and his “disciple,” Xavier Meert, a Belgian native who converted to Islam. They were reportedly assisted by the woman’s husband and three Muslim “sisters” of the victim.
During this period, the young woman had swallowed dozens of liters of “holy” water, according to Belgian media reports. She was fed two spoons of yogurt every day and always had earphones playing verses from the Quran.
In order to evict the demons, the exorcists reportedly put their fingers down the woman’s throat, forced her into bathing in hot water and beat her with a stick.
“The husband and Latifa herself asked Xavier Meert for the exorcism sessions,” the husband’s lawyer, Peter Chomé said. “He may have misjudged her health condition, but it has nothing to do with torture,” he added.
Latifa’s family asked the court to consider the practice that led to the death of their daughter as an act of torture.
“They made Latifa believe that she could not have children because the devil was inside her. That’s why they started the exorcism rituals, but exorcism is not recognized in the Islamic faith,” the victim’s brother said.