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Peruvian Trans Activist Dies in Police Custody in Bali

Rodrigo Ventocilla

Rodrigo Ventocilla's family says he was discriminated against, and the Harvard Kennedy School, where he was a student, has joined in calling for an investigation.

A transgender student from Peru has died in police custody in Bali after being arrested at Denpasar airport.

Rodrigo Ventocilla, 32, was detained August 6 while going through customs after agents searched his luggage and found what they deemed to be "suspicious items," the BBC reports. He died August 11, having been hospitalized two days earlier for severe vomiting.

Ventocilla was a prominent transgender rights activist and a founder of the Peruvian advocacy group Diversidades Trans Masculinas. He was a graduate student at Harvard Kennedy School who traveled to Bali with his husband, Sebastian Marallano, for their honeymoon. Marallano was not present at the time of the arrest but was later detained for attempting to aid Ventocilla in the days before his death.

Since Ventocilla's death, his family has alleged Bali law enforcement discriminated against him as a transgender man. They said he was prevented from speaking with the lawyers they had hired for him and that the items police arrested him for were "linked to his mental health treatment, for which he had a prescription from healthcare professionals."

Marallano was also hospitalized days into his stay in police custody. In exchange for Ventocilla and Marallano's freedom, Ventocilla's family claimed that Indonesian law enforcement asked for "exorbitant sums of money." The family said they were prevented from communicating with him and that Indonesian officials refused to allow an independent post-mortem examination. They also disputed that his death was caused by organ failure as a result of drugs he consumed.

They claimed the Peruvian consulate in Indonesia failed to address the situation, but Peru's foreign ministry responded that Indonesia's "zero tolerance policy" regarding drugs was "widely known," the BBC notes.

The dean of Harvard Kennedy School, Douglas Elmendorf, released a statement that the university stands with Ventocilla's family and their call to action, The Harvard Crimson reports. The school "supports the family's call for an immediate and thorough investigation and for public release of all relevant information," Elmendorf said.

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Ryan Adamczeski

Ryan is a staff writer at The Advocate, and a graduate of New York University Tisch's Department of Dramatic Writing, with a focus in television writing and comedy. She first became a published author at the age of 15 with her YA novel "Someone Else's Stars," and is now a member of GALECA, the LGBTQ+ society of entertainment critics. In her free time, Ryan likes watching New York Rangers hockey, listening to the Beach Boys, and practicing witchcraft.
Ryan is a staff writer at The Advocate, and a graduate of New York University Tisch's Department of Dramatic Writing, with a focus in television writing and comedy. She first became a published author at the age of 15 with her YA novel "Someone Else's Stars," and is now a member of GALECA, the LGBTQ+ society of entertainment critics. In her free time, Ryan likes watching New York Rangers hockey, listening to the Beach Boys, and practicing witchcraft.