Trans Harvard student’s mom says he was beaten to death by Indonesian police
The family of a Harvard University transgender rights activist have accused Indonesian police of beating him to death after arresting him on trumped up marijuana charges while he was honeymooning in Bali.
Rodrigo Ventosilla, 32, was detained on August 6 at Bali’s main airport when he arrived with his new husband, after Indonesian customs officers said they found a package of brownies they suspected of containing cannabis.
Indonesian officials claim that Ventosilla was rushed to a hospital three days later, after ingesting medication that was not seized during the arrest, and died in hospital on August 11.
But in an interview published on Thursday, Ventosilla’s mother said the arrest was motivated by racism and transphobia, accusing Indonesian cops of attempting to extort her son for $200,000 and beating him to death while in custody.
‘There is evidence of torture, and we want to clear Rodrigo’s name,’ grieving mother Ana Ventosilla told the Harvard Crimson student newspaper. ‘It was an extortion.’
Rodrigo Ventosilla, 32, (left) was detained on August 6 at Bali’s main airport when he arrived with his new husband Sebastían Marallano (right). Ventosilla died in custody days later
Ventosilla’s mother Ana (with him above) accused Indonesian police of beating him to death after arresting him on trumped up drug charges while he was honeymooning in Bali
Officials at Indonesia’s embassy to the United States did not immediately respond to a request for comment from DailyMail.com on Thursday morning, but the country’s police have denied committing any violence against Rodrigo Ventosilla.
Ventosilla, from Peru, was visiting the Indonesian resort island of Bali with his new husband, Sebastían Marallano, who is also Peruvian. The couple had recently wed in Chile.
A graduate student in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, Ventosilla was a founding member of the Peruvian trans rights organization Diversidades Trans Masculinas.
The tragic saga first unfolded when Ventocilla arrived at Bali’s I Gusti Ngurah Rai International Airport on August 6 and drew the scrutiny of customs officials.
‘He was detained because of his gender identity. His identity document did not match his appearance,’ family representative Luzmo Henríquez told the AP.
‘That made him a suspect for the Indonesian police. He was extorted, tortured and has died,’ Henríquez added.
Bali’s main airport, I Gusti Ngurah Rai International Airport, is seen in a file photo. Ventosilla was arrested on arrival after customs officials claimed he was carrying marijuana products
A graduate student in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, Ventosilla was a founding member of the Peruvian trans rights organization Diversidades Trans Masculinas
A Bali police spokesman said that Ventosilla had been under investigation for drug offences after suspected cannabis-derived products were found in his luggage.
Ventosilla’s mother Ana told the Crimson that it was after midnight in Lima when she learned he had been arrested, and she called him immediately.
Ana says that her son told her on a WhatsApp video call that Indonesian officials were demanding up to $100,000 to release him.
‘Mom, I’m going to negotiate. I’m going to tell them that I [will] give them $13,000,’ he told her, as she recalls.
But hours later, the demand had risen to $200,000, and Ventosilla’s hopes of paying his way to freedom slipped away, his mother said.
Soon after the call, Ventosilla was rushed to a hospital, where he died a few days later.
Ventosilla’s mother Ana said the arrest was motivated by racism and transphobia, accusing Indonesian cops of attempting to extort her son for $200,000 and beating him to death
Bali police spokesman Stefanus Satake Bayu Setianto told Reuters that Ventosilla fell ill after ingesting medication that was not part of the items confiscated by police.
Officials said Ventocilla was taken to the hospital the morning of August 9 after showing symptoms of depression and complaining of stomach pains.
Bayu said that the graduate student died on August 11 due to a ‘failure of bodily functions’.
Indonesian authorities deny any act of violence or discrimination against Ventosilla.
‘Everything went according to standard operation,’ said Bayu earlier this week.
Ventosilla’s new husband Marallano reportedly arrived on a separate flight, but was also detained after attempting to assist his spouse.
Marallano has since returned home safely to Peru, according to the Crimson.
Indonesia has some of the strictest drug laws in the world, and transporting marijuana carries a penalty of up to 12 years in prison.
The country also has limited protections for LGBT people, who have reported incidents of discrimination and even violence.
Students and faculty at the Harvard Kennedy School, where Ventosilla was studying, echoed the calls for an investigation
Ventocilla´s body has been taken from Indonesia and is expected to arrive in Lima soon, and his relatives want officials in Peru to determine the cause of death.
On Wednesday, LGBT rights activists rallied outside the prosecutor´s office in Lima to demand an autopsy and full investigation.
Activists also protested in front of the Peruvian Foreign Ministry last week, complaining that Peruvian authorities did not independently investigate Ventocilla´s death and welcomed the Indonesian authorities´ version without any questions.
In a sharp reversal following the protests, the Foreign Ministry last week asked for an ‘official report’ from authorities in Indonesia ‘to clarify the circumstances’ of his death, the Crimson reported.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry called Ventocilla a ‘brilliant Peruvian student’ and a ‘renowned activist for the rights of the LGBTQI+ community’
Students and faculty at the Harvard Kennedy School, where Ventosilla was studying, echoed the calls for an investigation.
‘Rodrigo’s passing is a devastating loss for his family and friends, for all of us at the Kennedy School, and for the many people whom he undoubtedly would have served after graduation,’ said Dean Douglas Elmendorf and Associate Dean Debra Isaacson in a statement.