Bali Police have gone on record to defend their actions and deny allegations of wrongdoing over the death of Rodrigo Ventocilla in police custody in August. Ventocilla was a prominent Harvard student and transgender activist from Peru. His death and the events leading up to his passing have been a source of outrage for LGBTQIA+ activists in the USA, Peru, and around the world.
Speaking to Coconuts Bali, Bali Police spokesman Stefanus Satake Bayu Setianto has reaffirmed the authority’s initial statements around Ventocilla’s death. Setianto told reporters that the fact that Ventocilla was transgender had nothing to do with his arrest. While police did misgender Ventocilla, they remain resolute that he was arrested for marijuana-related offenses and died after consuming medication that was not seized during his initial screening.
Setianto said ‘It had nothing to do with [him] being a transgender. From the screenings at the customs office with the X-ray machine, suspicious items were found, and later from lab screenings, they were proven to be [narcotics]’.
The spokesman went on to clarify the police’s account of the treatment of Ventocilla’s husband, Sebastian Marallano. Marallano and Ventocilla were heading to Bali to enjoy their honeymoon when their lives turned upside down. Marallano arrived on a different flight and was detained by police while trying to help his husband.
Setianto confirmed that Marallano was never arrested and that his teams were only interested in the issue of illegal narcotics. He told reporters how his teams had allowed Marallano to stay with Ventocilla to help keep him calm as they were concerned for his mental health. Setianto said, ‘They were like husband and wife. They were together. [Rodrigo] was accompanied by Sebastian. From time to time, they would hug each other. We [from the police] did not really make a fuss about it. We just acted professionally’.
When asked about allegations of bribery, Setianto firmly denied the accusations. He stated that Ventocilla had complied with police teams and had consented to sign the documents required for the investigation to proceed. Ventocilla’s family has told the media that Ventocilla and Marallano were asked to pay upwards of $100,000 for his release.
Ventocilla’s family has also told the media that they were blocked from ordering an independent autopsy after they felt that the ‘real cause’ of his death remained unknown. Police initially reported his cause of death as ‘organ failure’ after taking the prescription medications he was permitted to keep during his time in police custody.
Setianto responded to these comments by saying that a representative on behalf of the Ventcoilla family signed off on the paperwork requesting that an autopsy not be performed. The paperwork is said to have been signed by Ana Asuncion Ventosilla Villanueva.
Despite confirmation from the police, activist and loved ones are still seeking further justice for Ventocilla. His mother told The Havard Crimson on the 1st of September ‘For us, it is very painful…There is evidence of torture, and we want to clear Rodrigo’s name’. There are now calls for the Peruvian government to launch an investigation into the case.
The Peruvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has requested an official report from the Bali Police, and the family is waiting for Ventocilla’s body to be repatriated to Peru. His body is due to arrive on the 2nd of September, three days later than initially scheduled. It was reported that the Indonesian consulate did not translate the relevant documents into Spanish, meaning that the release of his remains was delayed.
Indonesia is known to have some of the toughest drug laws in the world. While other countries have moved to legalize or decriminalize marijuana, Indonesia remains steadfast that the narcotic will remain illegal. Being caught in possession of marijuana can lead to up to 12 years in prison. Indonesia has limited laws to protect the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community.
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