The Peruvian government has requested an official report from authorities in Indonesia over the death of Rodrigo Ventocilla, who died in police custody in Bali on the 11th of August. Ventocilla, a Harvard student and transgender activist, was traveling to Bali for his honeymoon. He was arrested on the 6th of August because he was suspected of carrying marijuana and prescription medications.
While police in Bali remains resolute that Ventocilla died after ‘organ failure’ after falling ill from taking medication not seized during his arrest, his family has spoken out about their side of their version of events. The Harvard Crimson, the university newspaper, reported on the 30th of August that the Peruvian Foreign Ministry had reversed its initial acceptance of the case and requested information from Indonesia to “to clarify the circumstances” surrounding Ventocilla’s death.
The request for further information comes just days after the Peruvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected accusations from Ventocilla’s family and loved ones that he was arrested for reasons other than the suspected marijuana. In a statement released late last week, Ventocilla’s family shared their belief that his arrest was based on ‘racial discrimination and transphobia’.
Lawyers representing Ventocilla’s family have announced that they have filed a legal complaint in Peru accusing officials in Indonesia and Peru of torture and human rights violations. While acknowledging that Indonesia has some of the strictest and most heavily enforced drug laws in the world, there are still unanswered questions about Ventocilla’s treatment in police custody and why his health took such a dramatic downturn.
In their statement, the Peruvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs described Rodrigo Ventocilla as a ‘brilliant Peruvian student’. They noted his work to create social equality, stating he was a ‘renowned activist for the rights of the LGBTQI+ community’.
The tone of the latest statement is quite different from that of the first, which reads ‘It is widely known that Indonesia has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to possession of drugs and their derivatives’.
Peru’s foreign affairs minister, Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Mackay, has expressed his regret for the stance of the government’s first press statement regarding Ventocilla’s death but did not admit any wrongdoing. Ventocilla’s mother, Ana Ventosilla, told reporters ‘The first press release was really aggravating and humiliating for us…we knew first-hand that it was not like that’.
Ventocilla’s family claim that the ‘real cause’ of his death remains unknown since they have been prevented from conducting an independent post-mortem by authorities in Bali. They also claim they were actively obstructed from accessing the hospitals where Ventocilla was treated after he fell ill in police custody.
The family shared in their own statement released last week that they were ‘never able to communicate or know of Rodrigo’s health status/diagnosis’ while he was in the hospital. Ventocilla arrived in Bali alone, and his husband, Sebastián Marallano, arrived on a later fight. Marallano was also detained by Bali police and immigration officers while trying to help his husband and understand what was happening.
Given Ventocilla’s work and friendships in activism spaces, and his attendance at Harvard University, it is likely that there are dozens of volunteers working behind the scenes to highlight alleged discrepancies in the case and push for answers and justice.
To add further heartbreak for his family, the repatriation of Ventocilla’s body to his homeland in Peru has been delayed due to reported errors from consular services in Indonesia. Documents required for the repatriation were not translated into Spanish, and therefore Ventocilla won’t arrive in Peru until the 2nd of September, rather than the 30th of August as initially planned.
Ventocilla’s mother remains hopeful that action will be taken to understand more fully what happened to her son in the days and hours before his death. She said, ‘Really, we need an investigation by the Peruvian government so we can bury Rodrigo with dignity and clear his name.”
The Peruvian government’s request for further clarification has been submitted to the government in Indonesia, and Ventocilla’s loved ones will continue to seek answers.
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