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Harvard Grad Student Dies in Bali From Police Brutality Over Cannabis Arrest

Rodrigo Ventocilla Ventosilla was a 32-year old Harvard Kennedy School (HKS graduate student) from Peru. He died while in police custody in Denpasar Indonesia, under circumstances that the family considers suspicious. Ventosilla (a trans man) was taken into custody for possessing cannabis during his trip to Bali.

HKS and Trans communities ask for assistance in raising awareness of the injustices and violations of human rights that took place in Bali last month, including allegations about police brutality or torture.

According to reports, Ventocilla was suffering from stomach pains and vomiting. Police transported Ventocilla by ambulance to Bhayangkara hospital. Radar Bali. However, his condition continued to deteriorate and he had to be transported to Sanglah Central General Hospital. There he died on August 11, at approximately 3:10 PM.

HKS Dean Douglas Elmendorf and HKS Senior Associate Dean for Degree Programs and Student Affairs ​​Debra E. “Debbie” Isaacson announced Ventocilla’s death to school associates and friends on August 12. 

Witnesses allege that it was a case of police brutality, and say that the police’s official story is baloney. They want an independent investigation to what took place in Bali. Stefanus Stake Bayu, Setianto’s head of public relations at the Bali Police claims that Ventocilla had consumed unseized drugs while in jail on August 8. This led to Ventocilla’s death.

A statement from the families of Ventocilla and his spouse, Sebastián Marallano, asked for the “Peruvian justice system to properly investigate the human rights violations of Rodrigo and Sebastian and to guarantee truth, justice, and reparation.”

Marallano flew to Bali on a separate flight but was detained by police without charge after attempting to help Ventocilla, according to the family’s statement. Marallano—who had nothing to do with the cannabis charges—was also “hospitalized” days after being detained by police.

“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,” Elmendorf wrote in an August 24 statement.

“The statement from Rodrigo’s family raises very serious questions that deserve clear and accurate answers. Harvard Kennedy School supports the family’s call for an immediate and thorough investigation and for public release of all relevant information, and the School stands with all of Rodrigo’s friends and colleagues and with the LGBTQ+ community.”

Ventocilla is a cofounder of Diversidades Trans Masculinas, Peru’s trans rights advocacy group. At the Harvard Kennedy School, he was pursuing a master’s degree in Public Administration in International Development.

Family members are asking Peruvian Foreign Ministry for an investigation into Julio Eduardo Tenorio Pereyra’s actions as head of consular services at the Peruvian Embassy, Indonesia.

It’s just the latest cannabis-related crime in Bali in which the punishments don’t seem to fit the crime by Western standards. After being caught with 9.1 grams cannabis at Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport, a Brazilian student was sentenced to 15 years.

Elmendorf and Isaacson stated that HKS will host a commemorative gathering in honor of Ventocilla.