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Transgender Harvard student dies in Indonesian police custody

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Family accuses Indonesian police of blocking access to Rodrigo, asking for bribe to release him

BALI (Indonesia): A Peruvian transgender rights activist has died in police custody in Bali.

Police arrested Rodrigo Ventocilla, 32, on 6 August at Denpasar airport, after Customs officials found what they said were suspicious items in his baggage. He died five days later in hospital, where police had taken him after he started vomiting, local media reported.

Ventocilla’s family accuse police of mistreating the Harvard student and of barring lawyers they had hired from seeing him. The family described Ventocilla’s arrest as an “act of racial discrimination and transphobia” and insisted that the items which had aroused the suspicion of customs officers were “linked to his mental health treatment, for which he had a prescription from healthcare professionals”.

Rodrigo Ventocilla, who was studying Public Administration at Harvard Kennedy School in the US, had travelled to Bali for his honeymoon. Ventocilla’s husband, Sebastián Marallano, arrived on a different flight and was detained later as he tried to help Ventocilla, a family statement says.

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. Both men were transferred by police to hospital on 9 August, with Ventocilla subsequently moved to another hospital, where he died on 11 August, the family statement adds.

A police official said Ventocilla had taken ill after consuming drugs which had not been confiscated from him during the search that had led to his arrest. According to the official, Ventocilla died of “organ failures throughout his body”.

But his family accuses Indonesian authorities of not allowing an independent post-mortem to be carried out and argues that “the real causes of his death” remain unknown. The family also says that Indonesian police obstructed access to the hospital “at all times” and that relatives were “never able to communicate or know of Rodrigo’s health status/diagnosis”.

The relatives added that they were failed by the head of the Peruvian consulate in Bali, who they say did not respond to their messages. Peru’s foreign ministry has dismissed the family’s allegation that the arrest of the two men was an act of racial discrimination and transphobia. “It is widely known that Indonesia has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to possession of drugs and their derivatives,” their statement reads. ‑‑BBC

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