Four accused of murdering Palestinian boy in Belgian asylum centre

Belgian authorities on Thursday charged four young Palestinian men with the murder of a nine-year-old Palestinian boy. (Shutterstock)
Updated 25 April 2019

Four accused of murdering Palestinian boy in Belgian asylum centre

BRUSSELS: Belgian authorities on Thursday charged four young Palestinian men with the murder of a nine-year-old Palestinian boy at an asylum-seekers' centre near Belgium's northern port city of Antwerp.
Officials said the boy, who had been staying with his mother in the Broechem centre, went missing late on Monday before a search turned up his lifeless body in a ditch on Wednesday.
The Antwerp's prosecutor's office said an investigating judge charged four of the five people who were arrested on Wednesday with his murder.
"The facts are qualified as hostage-taking and murder," the prosecutor's office in Antwerp said in a statement without confirming a news report the boy may have been kidnapped for ransom.
The accused are aged 19, 20, 21 and 24 years old, the prosecutor's office said, with spokesman Kristof Aerts confirming they are Palestinian. The fifth man arrested faces possible charges later Thursday.
The shocking case has drawn the attention of Prime Minister Charles Michel.
"An investigation will be conducted in a transparent and independent manner. The culprits must be punished," Michel wrote in a tweet earlier, offering his condolences after this "tragic death".
The boy, born in Lebanon but of Palestinian origin, had been staying with his 26-year-old mother in the Broechem asylum centre when he disappeared on Monday evening, Aerts said.
He was last seen riding his bike. A search operation found the boy's lifeless body in a ditch on the grounds of the reception centre on Wednesday afternoon.
Newspapers in the northern, Dutch-speaking region of Flanders reported the boy died in a possible extortion case.
The daily Het Laatste Nieuws said the boy's aunt, who lived in the same centre, had received a threatening telephone text message: "100,000 euros or you will never again see Daniel alive."
The prosecutor's office did not confirm the report.
A source close to the prosecution told AFP that statements that the accused have given investigators "are not clear" and none of them has confessed to the alleged crimes.
Belgium, a country of about 11 million inhabitants, receives about 20,000 asylum seekers annually, many of whom come from conflict areas in the Middle East, according to the Fedasil agency website.


Leading Hong Kong activists charged for Tiananmen vigil gathering

Updated 17 min 39 sec ago

Leading Hong Kong activists charged for Tiananmen vigil gathering

  • Hong Kongers defied a ban on rallies to mark the June 4 anniversary of Beijing’s deadly 1989 crackdown
  • China’s leaders have rejected calls to give Hong Kongers universal suffrage

HONG KONG: Thirteen prominent Hong Kong democracy activists appeared in court on Monday charged with holding an unauthorized gathering to mark the Tiananmen Square crackdown, the latest in a string of prosecutions against protest leaders in the restless financial hub.
Last month tens of thousands of Hong Kongers defied a ban on rallies to mark the June 4 anniversary of Beijing’s deadly 1989 crackdown against students pushing for democracy.
The annual vigil has been held in Hong Kong for the last three decades and usually attracts huge crowds. It has taken on particular significance in recent years as the semi-autonomous city chafes under Beijing’s increasingly authoritarian rule.
This year’s vigil was banned for the first time with authorities citing coronavirus measures. At the time local transmission had largely been halted.
But thousands turned out to hold candles in their neighborhoods and in Victoria Park, the traditional site of the vigil.
Police later arrested 13 leading activists who appeared at the Victoria Park vigil.
All appeared in court on Monday to be formally charged with “inciting” an unlawful assembly, which carries up to five years in jail.
Among them are Jimmy Lai, the millionaire owner of the openly pro-democracy Apple newspaper, veteran democracy activists such as Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho as well as young campaigner Figo Chan.
When asked if he understood the charge, Lee invoked the hundreds who were killed by Chinese tanks and soldiers at Tiananmen.
“This is political persecution,” he said. “The real incitement is the massacre conducted by the Chinese Communist Party 31 years ago.”
Some of those charged on Monday — and many other leading democracy figures — face separate prosecutions related to last year’s huge and often violent pro-democracy protests.
China’s leaders have rejected calls to give Hong Kongers universal suffrage and portrayed the protests as a plot by foreigners to destabilize the motherland.
Earlier this month Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law aimed at stamping out the protests once and for all.
The law targets subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign collusion, with sentences including life in prison.
But its broad phrasing — such as a ban on encouraging hatred toward China’s government — has sent fear rippling through a city used to being able to speak its mind.
Police have arrested people for possessing pro-independence or autonomy material, libraries and schools have pulled books, political parties have disbanded and one prominent opposition politician has fled.
The law bypassed Hong Kong’s legislature and its contents were kept secret until the moment it was enacted.
It empowered China’s security apparatus to set up shop openly in Hong Kong for the first time, while Beijing has also claimed jurisdiction for some serious national security cases — ending the legal firewall between the mainland the city’s independent judiciary.
China has also announced global jurisdiction to pursue national security crimes committed by anyone outside of Hong Kong and China, including foreigners.