Harvard Grad Student Arrested for Cannabis in Bali Dies in Custody Due to Police Brutality



On the 11th of August 2022, a 32-year-old Peruvian Harvard Kennedy School student, Rodrigo Ventocilla Ventosilla, was pronounced dead at a hospital in Denpasar, Indonesia, while in police custody. According to reports, Rodrigo was earlier arrested over cannabis possession and was allegedly discriminated against and maltreated by the police.

 

Ventocilla, a celebrity trans right activist and a transgender man, was confirmed dead five days after being held in custody by the police for cannabis possession as soon as he arrived in Bali. According to local reports, Ventocilla was visiting Bali with his spouse for their honeymoon vacation. While the police maintain he was arrested on a cannabis possession charge, Ventocilla’s family alleges that he was arrested as an act of transphobia and racial discrimination. He was denied his fundamental human right and was subjected to police brutality and violence while his lawyers and family members were not informed of his condition, claims Ventocilla’s family.

 

Ventocilla is recognized as an active voice in the trans community. He was a founding member of Diversidades Trans Masculinas, the Peruvian trans rights advocacy organization. He was also pursuing a master’s degree in Public Administration in International Development at the Harvard Kennedy School, a member of class 2023.

 

The families of Ventocilla and his spouse, in a public statement published on Tuesday, called on the Peruvian justice system to thoroughly investigate Sebastian and Rodrigo’s human rights violation and ensure that truth, reparation, and justice is served. 

 

Douglas W. Elmendorf, the dean of Harvard Kennedy School, in a statement issued on Tuesday night, affirmed that the school is entirely behind and in support of the family’s call for quick and careful investigation and that relevant information should be released for the general public.

 

Reaction From The Bali Police.

Following the news of Ventocilla’s death, the Bali police launched an immediate investigation to determine the cause of his death. However, it remains unclear what the focus of the investigation will be and whether or not the result of the investigation will be made public. When asked for a comment about the public statement released by Ventocilla’s family, the Bali police did not comment.

 

However, Bali Police’s head of public relations, Stefanus Satake Bayu Setianto, previously stated that Ventocilla died in police custody after swallowing an unknown quantity of drugs on the 8th of August, 2022. Further explaining to detikBali, an Indonesian news outlet, Stefanu Satake affirmed that Ventocilla died from complete failure of body function, causing impaired liver and kidney function, including impaired nervous system function.

 

Meanwhile, Ventocilla’s family questioned the police’s explanation. While making the public statement on Tuesday, they acknowledge that they certainly do not know Ventocilla’s cause of death, and that is why they are calling for an independent autopsy.

 

Timeline Of The Event

After vomiting and experiencing stomach pain, Ventocilla was immediately rushed to the Bhayangkara Hospital, according to the reports of Radar Bali, an Indonesian news outlet. The source further explained that Ventocilla was referred to the Sanglah Central General Hospital after his health deteriorated, where he later died on the 11th of August 2022 at precisely 3:10 p.m local time.

 

According to Ventocilla’s family, the police have not been transparent about the whole situation from the get-go as they obstructed access to the hospital. The hospital was guarded at all times, and his lawyers, including Harvard students who came to help, were all denied access to see him.

 

Based on police reports, Ventocilla was initially detained at the Gusti Ngurah Rai International Airport Denpasar on the 6th of August 2022 for possessing a herb grinder. Radar Bali aslo reported that the Bali police arrested Ventocilla, also in possession of cannabis and two other tablets. 

 

Meanwhile, Ventocilla’s family claims he was arrested for possessing prescription drugs he often took as mental health medication. The family claims Ventocilla and Marallano, his spouse, were denied fundamental human rights such as freedom, health, and the right to legal defence.

 

Arriving on a separate flight, Marallano was also detained by the police in Bali without a charge after trying to help Ventocilla gain freedom. The family also accused Bali police of extortion, claiming they demanded a large sum of $200,000 to free Marallano and Ventocilla.

 

The Peruvian consular services in Indonesia were not spared from Ventocilla’s family’s wrath. They claimed the consular did not offer any support not until news of Ventocilla’s death hit the news. The family’s statement affirmed that the consulate’s actions were negligent and late, hindering the family’s effort to help Rodrigo when he was initially detained.

 

That’s not all; the family also reached out to the Peruvian Foreign Ministry, saying they should take full responsibility for neglecting its duties and execute a thorough investigation regarding the actions and inactions of the head of consular services, Julio Eduardo Tenorio Pereyra.

 

The family claims while nothing can bring back Ventocilla, their demand for truth and justice will help pursue the goal of improving the quality of service assistance to Peruvian citizens abroad without preservations for ethnicity, class and gender. Following this statement, the Peruvian Foreign Ministry and the Peruvian embassy in Indonesia did not comment on the matter.

 

On Tuesday, the dean of Harvard Kennedy School, Elmendorf, commented that the school had been updated about the circumstances surrounding Ventocilla’s death, which the family has described as extremely disturbing. Elmendorf added that the school would continue to stay close to Ventocilla’s family and offer full support to the family as they cope with the devastating situation. The HKS alums and Rodrigo’s HKS classmates have also been kind to provide crucial assistance to the family.

 

Debra E. “Debbie” Isaacson, HKS Senior Associate Dean for Degree Programs and Student Affairs and Elmendorf, announced Ventocilla’s death to the entire school on the 12th of August, 2022. They acknowledge that his death is a tragedy for both friends and family and everybody at the Kennedy School, and for employers whom he no doubt would have served well after graduation.

 

Conclusion

The sad tragedy that happened to Ventocilla is just the latest cannabis-related crime in Bali, and according to western standards, the punishments for such an act do not fit the crime. Just recently, a Brazilian student faced 15 years after being arrested for possessing 9.1 grams of cannabis at the Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali.

 

As a tribute to Ventocilla, Isaacson and Elmendorf announced that HKS will be holding a memorial service in memory of him.

 

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