Soldiers have given suspended prison terms for the death of younger Jallal Hami, who fled the civil war in Algeria to start a new life in France.
A French court on Thursday handed down suspended prison sentences to three soldiers convicted of drowning a trainee officer during an initiation ritual in the country’s most prestigious military academy.
Jallal Hami, 24, drowned on the night of October 29, 2012, while crossing a swamp as part of an exercise to teach the traditions of the Saint-Cyr officer school to the news recruits.
A total of seven soldiers, including a general, were tried for manslaughter.
A court in Rennes, a town in the western Brittany region of France near the Saint-Cyr academy, sentenced an army captain, a major and a soldier who has since left the army to terms with reprieve from six to eight months.
Four other defendants, including the general who was then in charge of training at Saint-Cyr, were cleared.
Hami’s brother Rachid, who accused the sophomores behind the hazing ritual of going wild, reacted angrily to the verdict.
“You betrayed my brother once again,” he said.
On the night of Hami’s death, the new recruits were told to swim through a 43-meter (47-meter) swamp weighed down by their helmets in 9 degrees Celsius (48 degrees Fahrenheit) water.
The purpose of the exercise was to simulate a landing on the beach.
To the tensions of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” – famous in the war movie Apocalypse Now – the recruits jumped into the cold water. Several quickly struggled and sank, breathless and clutching at the others.
The organizers threw lifebuoys at them to help them, but it was too late for Jallal Hami, who was missing.
Firefighters, alerted an hour later, found his body at 2:35 am near the edge of the swamp.
During the trial, the public prosecutor denounced the “madness” of an initiation ritual fueled by “uncontrolled testosterone” and asked the court to give six of the defendants suspended sentences of up to two years.
The prosecutor had, however, requested the acquittal of General Francis Chanson.
Chanson’s lawyer, William Pineau, said that while the events were “tragic”, his client could not be held criminally responsible “because he did not know what was really going on on the ground”.
Jallal Hami came to France in 1992 with his mother and brothers to escape the civil war in Algeria.
Hami had dreamed for years of being admitted to Saint-Cyr, founded in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte.
Hami had graduated from the elite Sciences Po University, studied Mandarin and excelled in sports, qualifications that allowed him to enter officers’ school directly as a third-year intern.