The death of a transgender Harvard graduate student in police custody in Bali is sparking anger in his native Peru, where activists are calling for protests outside Peruvian embassies and consulates around the world to demand an independent investigation.
Rodrigo Ventosilla, 32, was arrested by customs police shortly after arriving in the popular Indonesian tourist destination with her new husband Sebastian Marallano on a planned honeymoon on August 6 and was later charged with possession of cannabis.
He died five days later in hospital in circumstances that remain unclear. A Bali police spokesman said Ventosilla fell ill after ingesting drugs that were not among the items confiscated by police and died of “failure of bodily functions”.
His family alleges that Ventosilla and Marallano faced “racial discrimination and transphobia” while in police custody – claims that angered the Peruvian LGBTQ community and sparked protests in the capital Lima on Friday.
The police spokesman denied any threat of violence towards Ventosilla.
Peru’s foreign ministry reiterated Indonesia’s tough stance on drugs and appeared to reject the family’s claims of “racial discrimination and transphobia” by local police against the couple. “It is well known that Indonesia has a zero-tolerance policy regarding the possession of drugs and their derivatives,” the ministry said in a statement.
CNN’s follow-up calls and emails to the Peruvian consulate in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, also went unanswered.
However, the ministry’s position has fueled anger, and the Lima-based group Diversidades Trans Masculinas, an activist network founded by Ventosilla, has called for further protests.
“After Rodrigo’s death in Bali, we call on supporters to join us in a sit-in outside Peruvian embassies and consulates around the world to demand justice,” the group said on Facebook.
He accused the Peruvian consulate of not following up on the case and ignoring calls from Ventosilla’s family and the “international (trans) community”.
Luz Manriquez, an LGBTQ activist who was at the protest on Friday, criticized the Peruvian government for not demanding an independent investigation.
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“He lacks empathy because he doesn’t recognize that a Peruvian died at the hands of police from another country,” Manriquez said.
Luzmo Henriquez, a lawyer for the family, told CNN they will file a complaint against Indonesian police and drug enforcement agencies alleging torture and also seek redress from the Peruvian consulate in Indonesia, which he accuses. for failing to discharge his duties towards the two men.
Ventosilla was pursuing a master’s degree in public administration in international development at Harvard Kennedy School. Dean Douglas Elmendorf said in a statement that it was “a very painful time for many at the Kennedy School” and supported the family’s call for an immediate and thorough investigation into Ventosilla’s death. “Rodrigo’s family statement raises very serious questions that deserve clear and specific answers,” Elmendorf said.
“The school stands with all of Rodrigo’s friends and colleagues and the LGBTQ community.”
The Bali police spokesman told CNN that arrangements were being made for Ventosilla’s body to be brought back to Lima.
Unlike some of the more conservative parts of largely Muslim Indonesia – such as Aceh province, where gay sex is punishable by flogging in public – Bali, which is predominantly Hindu, is generally seen as tolerant of LGBTQ tourists. .
Andreas Harsono, Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said it was important for Bali to investigate the death.
“The police should carry out an independent and impartial investigation into the death of Rodrigo Ventosilla,” Harsono said. “His family and friends deserve to know why and how he died.”
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