A transgender Peruvian man died last month while in police custody on his honeymoon vacation in Denpasar, Indonesia. Rodrigo Ventocilla, a Harvard student and a prominent trans rights activist, was pronounced dead on Aug. 11, five days after being detained for alleged drug possession upon his arrival in Bali.
According to The Harvard Crimson, Ventocilla’s family claims his arrest was an act of racial discrimination and transphobia. They said the 32-year-old student was denied his basic human rights and was subjected to police violence.
On Thursday (Sept. 1), Peruvian prosecutors announced they opened an investigation into Ventocilla’s death. Their probe will include an autopsy, a request made by LGBTQ+ activists following his family’s accusations that he was tortured by Indonesian police. The authorities, however, denied Ventocilla was abused in custody, stating that his death stemmed from stomach pains while in detention. Indonesian police also alleged that he showed signs of depression before his death.
Luzmo Henríquez, a representative of the Ventocilla family, told The Associated Press on Wednesday (Aug. 31) that there is no truth to that story. “He was detained because of his gender identity. His identity document did not match his appearance,” Henríquez said. “That made him a suspect for the Indonesian police. He was extorted, tortured, and has died.”
Upon learning of Ventocilla’s passing, Harvard Kennedy School released a statement stating that the college’s students and faculty members were heartbroken by the news. “On Aug. 12, we shared the heartbreaking news that a member of our community, Rodrigo Ventocilla MPA/ID 2023, died after arriving in Indonesia for his honeymoon. In the days since, the Kennedy School has stayed in close contact with Rodrigo’s family and has offered ongoing support as the family copes with this devastating ordeal.”
The statement continues, “Rodrigo’s HKS classmates and HKS alumni in multiple countries have also provided vital assistance. We offer our deepest condolences as the family copes with this grievous loss. We received yesterday a statement from Rodrigo’s family with their description of extremely disturbing circumstances surrounding Rodrigo’s death—a statement that talks about his arrest and detention just before his death and that highlights his rights as a transgender man.”
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