Rodrigo Ventocilla Ventosilla, 32, a Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) graduate student from Peru, died on August 11 while under police custody at a hospital in Denpasar, Indonesia under what the family calls suspicious circumstances. Ventosilla, a trans man, was arrested for possession of cannabis while traveling to Bali to celebrate his honeymoon.
The HKS and trans communities are pleading for help in highlighting the injustice and human rights violations that allegedly took place last month in Bali, with allegations of police brutality and torture.
Police took Ventocilla to Bhayangkara Hospital after he suffered stomach pain and vomiting, according to Radar Bali. But his condition deteriorated, and he was transported to the Sanglah Central General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on August 11 at around 3:10 p.m.
HKS Dean Douglas Elmendorf and HKS Senior Associate Dean for Degree Programs and Student Affairs Debra E. “Debbie” Isaacson announced Ventocilla’s death to school associates and friends on August 12.
Witnesses allege that it was a case of police brutality, and say that the police’s official story is baloney. They are demanding an independent investigation of what happened in Bali. Stefanus Satake Bayu Setianto, head of public relations for the Bali Police, claims Ventocilla consumed more unseized drugs on August 8 in jail which led to his death.
A statement from the families of Ventocilla and his spouse, Sebastián Marallano, asked for the “Peruvian justice system to properly investigate the human rights violations of Rodrigo and Sebastian and to guarantee truth, justice, and reparation.”
Marallano flew to Bali on a separate flight but was detained by police without charge after attempting to help Ventocilla, according to the family’s statement. Marallano—who had nothing to do with the cannabis charges—was also “hospitalized” days after being detained by police.
“We received yesterday a statement from Rodrigo’s family with their description of extremely disturbing circumstances surrounding Rodrigo’s death—a statement that talks about his arrest and detention just before his death, and that highlights his rights as a transgender man,” Elmendorf wrote in an August 24 statement.
“The statement from Rodrigo’s family raises very serious questions that deserve clear and accurate answers. Harvard Kennedy School supports the family’s call for an immediate and thorough investigation and for public release of all relevant information, and the School stands with all of Rodrigo’s friends and colleagues and with the LGBTQ+ community.”
Ventocilla was a co-founder of the Peruvian trans rights advocacy organization Diversidades Trans Masculinas. At the Harvard Kennedy School, he was pursuing a master’s degree in Public Administration in International Development.
The family is asking the Peruvian Foreign Ministry to conduct an investigation into the actions of Julio Eduardo Tenorio Pereyra, the head of consular services for the Peruvian Embassy in Indonesia.
It’s just the latest cannabis-related crime in Bali in which the punishments don’t seem to fit the crime by Western standards. A Brazilian student faced 15 years after he was caught at the Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali with 9.1 grams of cannabis.
Elmendorf and Isaacson said that HKS will hold a memorial gathering in memory of Ventocilla.
Benjamin M. Adams is Staff Writer at High Times, and has written for Vice, Forbes, HuffPost, The Advocate, Culture, and many other publications. He holds a Bachelor of Communication from Southern New Hampshire University.