Suspicious death of trans student in Bali police custody sparks protests

A photo of Rodrigo Ventocilla

The death of a trans man in custody in Bali has sparked emotional protests in his home country of Peru.

Rodrigo Ventosilla, 32, was a founding member of the Peruvian trans rights advocacy organisation Diversidades Trans Masculinas, and was a Harvard Kennedy School student at the time of his death on 11 August.

Ventosilla had visited Bali with his spouse, Sebastían Marallano, for their honeymoon, but upon arriving at I Gusti Ngurah Rai International Airport, Denpasar, he was detained for alleged drug possession.

However, his family has said alleged he was arrested in “an act of racial discrimination and transphobia”. He died five days later.

Bali Police told local media that Ventosilla died after consuming unsealed drugs while he was in police custody, but his loved ones have demanded that officials release his autopsy.

Following his death, activists and members of the LGBTQ+ community gathered outside the Peruvian Foreign Ministry in Lima, calling on authorities to carry out their own investigation into Ventocilla’s death.

According to the Associated Press, the trans student’s body is being transported back to Peru, where his family hopes that a cause of death will be determined.

Luzmo Henríquez, a lawyer for Ventocilla’s family, said: “He was detained because of his gender identity.

“His identity document did not match his appearance. That made him a suspect for the Indonesian police. He was extorted, tortured and has died.”

But, speaking to CNN, the Peruvian Foreign Ministry cited Indonesia’s tough stance on drugs, appearing to dismiss the family’s claims of racism and transphobia, and it has not announced an independent investigation into Ventosilla’s death. 

LGBTQ+ activist Luz Manriquez, who attended the protest, said: “It lacks empathy because it does not recognise that a Peruvian has died in the hands of police from another country.”

Diversidades Trans Masculinas has called on the global trans community to help pressure Peru to uncover the truth about the trans student’s death in Bali.

In a Facebook post, the group said: “Following Rodrigo’s death in Bali, we call on supporters to join us in a sit-in outside Peruvian embassies and consulates from around the world to demand justice.”