Indonesian police came to their defenses on Thursday as they denied recurring accusations of mistreating and withholding Peruvian Harvard University transgender activist, 32-year-old Rodrigo Ventosilla, who died shortly after getting arrested at Denpasar airport. Rodrigo’s family argues that the arrest had been “an act of racial discrimination and transphobia.”
Rodrigo was studying Public Administration at Harvard Kennedy School in the US when he and his husband decided it was time for their honeymoon. Rodrigo arrived at Denpasar airport in Bali on August 6, when customs officials found what they said were suspicious items in his baggage.
According to a family statement, his husband, Sebastián Marallano, came on a different flight and was later detained when he attempted to assist his fiance.
A Bali police spokesman told Reuters that Rodrigo had been investigated for drug offenses after suspected cannabis-derived products were found in his luggage.
Rodrigo’s family claims that the items that had sparked suspicion were “linked to his mental health treatment, for which he had a prescription from healthcare professionals.”
The family alleges that Bali police asked for “exorbitant sums of money” in exchange for releasing the two men, an allegation police in Bali have not yet responded to. And that Rodrigo was also kept from speaking with lawyers they had hired as his representation.
An official said Ventocilla had fallen ill after consuming drugs not confiscated from him during the search that had led to his arrest. Local media added reports that Rodrigo was violently throwing up. Five days following his arrest, Rodrigo and his fiance were both admitted to a hospital.
According to an official, Ventocilla died of “organ failures throughout his body.” Shortly after the men’s admission, Rodrigo was moved to a different hospital, where he eventually died on August 11.
However, the family reiterated their concerns when they claimed Indonesian authorities would not allow an independent post-mortem to be carried out and argued that “the real cause of his death” remains unknown. The family added that Indonesian police interfered with their ability to go to the hospital “at all times,” concluding that they were “unable to communicate or know of Rodrigo’s health status or diagnosis.”
Rodrigo’s family also released a statement claiming that the Peruvian consulate in Indonesia ignored the situation. But the BBC noted that Peru’s foreign ministry responded that Indonesia’s “zero tolerance policy” regarding drugs is “widely known.”
Rodrigo’s family continues to allege that the arrest of the two men was an act of racial discrimination and transphobia.