Peru asks Indonesia to investigate death of Harvard trans student – The Washington Post


The death of a Harvard transgender student in Indonesian custody has caused uproar in his native Peru and the United States, with authorities in Lima pressing for an investigation into the circumstances of his detention and death after the public backlash.

Rodrigo Ventosilla, a 32-year-old public administration graduate student, died on Aug. 11, five days after he was detained on the resort island of Bali for alleged possession of marijuana, Reuters reported.

Ventosilla, a transgender man who was on honeymoon with his partner, died due to “failure of bodily functions” after taking medication that had not been confiscated by authorities, Bali police told Reuters. Ventosilla’s spouse was separately detained but has been released, according to the Crimson, Harvard’s student newspaper.

Local law enforcement said that the case is closed, but Ventosilla’s family said in a statement shared by activists that he was a victim of “police violence,” and “racial discrimination and transphobia.” They also claim that he was denied access to legal counsel while in detention and that he had been carrying prescribed mental health medication.

Harvard’s Kennedy School, where Ventosilla was a student, urged an “immediate and thorough investigation” into “very serious questions that deserve clear and accurate answers.”

Balinese police did not immediately return requests for comment on Saturday.

Indonesia — the world’s largest Muslim-majority country — has a long history of gender diversity, and the tourism-dependent island of Bali is relatively queer-friendly, said Andreas Harsono, a Jakarta-based researcher at Human Rights Watch. But LGBTQ citizens are accorded limited rights and same-sex partnerships are not legally recognized. In recent years, the LGTBQ community has also been subject to a crackdown under public obscenity and pornography laws as the government courts socially conservative voters.

The Peruvian foreign ministry initially dismissed allegations of law enforcement misconduct, instead echoing Indonesian claims that Ventosilla’s detention was due to alleged illegal drug possession and unrelated to race and gender identity.

Its initial reaction was seen by many Peruvian LGBTQ activists as tone-deaf. Diversidades Trans Masculinas, a transgender advocacy group founded by Ventosilla, launched an online protest to demand justice. (Peru’s left-wing president has said he opposes same-sex marriage and does not regard LGBTQ issues as a priority, according to the Associated Press.)

“His death should not go unpunished,” Diversidades Trans Masculinas wrote in a Facebook post. A small group of demonstrators also gathered outside the foreign ministry in Lima on Friday.

Amid the backlash, Peru’s foreign minister met with Ventosilla’s mother and sister. The government then issued a new statement that praised Ventosilla as a “brilliant student” and activist; it also said it had asked Indonesian authorities to look into the student’s treatment.

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Karen Anaya Cortez, a LGBTQ activist and friend of Ventosilla’s, said in an interview that there has been “no clarity” on the case. She said Ventosilla’s family had told her that the couple had been prescribed medical marijuana but that Bali police had ignored their explanation.

Indonesian activists have pushed for the legalization of medical marijuana but a top court recently held that existing prohibitions are constitutional, according to Bloomberg News. The Southeast Asian nation retains capital punishment as an option for certain drug-related crimes.

“Indonesia’s drug laws are extremely strict,” said Harsono, the Human Rights Watch researcher. “Some foreigners can be totally unaware that such restrictions also apply to the owning and consumption of recreational drugs, not just buying and selling.”

Li reported from Andong, South Korea. Marina Lopes in Singapore contributed to this report.



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