Bali police deny transphobia, violence, extortion in the death of Harvard fellow

Rodrigo Ventosilla (left) pictured with his husband Sebastian Marallano. Photo: Obtained.
Rodrigo Ventosilla (left) pictured with his husband Sebastian Marallano. Photo: Obtained.

Amid ongoing protests from LGBTQIA+ activists in Peru following the death of Harvard student and activist Rodrigo Ventosilla in Bali earlier this month, police in Bali have denied any wrongdoing following his arrest at the Ngurah Rai International Airport.

As previously reported, Rodrigo’s arrival in Bali on Aug. 6 for a honeymoon with his husband Sebastian Marallano turned into a nightmare when the former was arrested after suspected cannabis-derived products were found in his luggage.

The family said that Sebastian, who arrived in Bali on a separate flight, was also detained after he came to assist Rodrigo.

What followed was a series of events described by Rodrigo’s family as “racial discrimination and transphobia,” as both Rodrigo and Sebastian are trans men. They said the police deprived the pair of outside communication and the right to legal defense as well as “irregularly demanded exorbitant sums of money that increased over the hours, from 13,000 to 100,000 dollars for each one.”

The family said that on Aug. 9, both Rodrigo and Sebastian suffered a “strong decompensation” and were hospitalized, with Rodrigo admitted to the ICU. Rodrigo died on Aug. 11, while Sebastian returned to his homeland on Aug. 17.

Speaking to Coconuts Bali today, Bali Police spokesman Stefanus Satake Bayu Setianto declared that there were no acts of discrimination whatsoever in law enforcement’s handling of the case.

While the initial police statement regarding Rodrigo’s death that Coconuts Bali previously received from Stefanus himself said an airport customs officer described Rodrigo as “ a female traveler,” the spokesman insisted that there was no profiling towards the deceased.

“It had nothing to do with [him] being a transgender. From the screenings at the customs office with the X-ray machine, suspicious items were found and later from lab screenings they were proven to be [narcotics],” he said. 

Some of the items included brownies that allegedly contained cannabis, as well as marijuana powder and other items containing THC. In their statement, Rodrigo’s family said that he owned “medication linked to his mental health treatment, for which he had a prescription from healthcare professionals.”

Indonesia’s anti-drug laws still categorize medical marijuana as illegal. The government has only recently stated that it would consider research for medical marijuana after regional neighbors Thailand decriminalized the plant even for recreational use.

Stefanus also insisted that police did not actually arrest Sebastian. In fact, the Bali Police, Stefanus said, had allowed Sebastian to keep Rodrigo company in order to calm the latter down due to his mental health condition.

“They were like husband and wife. They were together. [Rodrigo] was accompanied by Sebastian. From time to time they would hug each other. We [from the police] did not really make a fuss about it. We just acted professionally,” said Stefanus.

In addition to denying the accusations of violence, Stefanus also denied that the police demanded bribe money from the couple. He said that Rodrigo was fully cooperative with investigators the entire time and had  signed all the legal documents needed for the investigation.

As for the family’s accusation that “the Indonesian authorities have not allowed an independent necropsy to be performed on Rodrigo’s body,” Stefanus said that the police contacted the Embassy of Peru in Jakarta for further steps after his death and had allowed the family and the legal team for an autopsy.

Stefanus said it was a family representative, Ana Asuncion Ventosilla Villanueva, who signed the document asking the police to not perform an autopsy. As for Rodrigo’s medical record, Stefanus said it was released to the family on Aug. 25.

Coconuts Bali has been in touch with Rodrigo and Sebastian’s media representatives and has asked for comments regarding developments in the story on numerous occasions in the past week. 

In a public statement released by the team today in Peru, they reiterated the allegation that “Rodrigo was detained … because of his gender expression.”

Separately, Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said that the ministry and the Embassy of Peru in Jakarta are communicating about the matter.

“In this context, the [Indonesian] Ministry of Foreign Affairs has forwarded the statement from the Bali Police to the Embassy of Peru in Jakarta,” he said.

“Based on the police report, when apprehended, the deceased was in possession of illegal drugs. If there is any need for further inquiries, you may contact the Bali Police.”

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