Asia Pacific / Crime & Legal

Indonesian woman freed after Malaysian court drops murder charge in Kim Jong Nam killing

AP

An Indonesian woman held two years on suspicion of killing the North Korean leader’s half brother was freed from custody Monday after a Malaysian judge discharged the murder charge against her.

The judge discharged Siti Aisyah without an acquittal after prosecutors said they wanted to withdraw the charge. They did not give a reason.

She was quickly ushered out of the courtroom and into a waiting car. An emotional Aisyah told reporters she had only learned Monday morning that she would be freed. “I am surprised and very happy.”

The murder trial of Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong was put on hold after the surprise development. She was to have begun giving her defense in Monday’s court session, after months of delay.

The trial will resume Thursday, with prosecutors expected to reply to a request by Huong’s lawyers asking the government to similarly withdraw the charges against her.

Indonesia’s government said its continual high-level lobbying resulted in Aisyah’s release. The foreign ministry said in a statement that she was “deceived and did not realize at all that she was being manipulated by North Korean intelligence.”

It said Aisyah, a migrant worker, believed that she was part of a reality TV show and never had any intention of killing Kim Jong Nam.

The ministry said Malaysia’s attorney general used his authority under Malaysia’s criminal procedure code to not continue the prosecution following a request from Indonesia’s law and human rights minister.

It said that over the past two years, Aisyah’s plight was raised in “every bilateral Indonesia-Malaysia meeting,” including at the president’s level, the vice president’s level and in regular meetings of the foreign minister and other ministers with their Malaysian counterparts.

Indonesian Ambassador Rusdi Kirana said he was thankful to the Malaysian government. “We believe she is not guilty,” he said.

Prosecutor Iskandar Ahmad said that the discharge not amounting to acquittal means Aisyah can be recharged, but that there are no such plans for now.

The two young women were accused of smearing VX nerve agent on Kim’s face in an airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 13, 2017. They have said they thought they were taking part in a prank for a TV show. They were the only suspects in custody after four North Korean suspects fled the country the same morning Kim was killed.

Meanwhile, Huong said she was shocked by the development.

“I am in shock. My mind is blank,” a distraught Huong told reporters through a translator after Aisyah left.

Huong’s lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik said Huong felt Aisyah’s discharge was unfair to her as the judge last year had found sufficient evidence to continue the murder trial against them.

“She is entitled to the same kind of consideration as Aisyah,” he said. “We are making representation to the attorney general for Doan to be taken equally.”

A High Court judge last August had found there was enough evidence to infer Aisyah, Huong and the four missing North Koreans had engaged in a “well-planned conspiracy” to kill Kim. The defense phase of the trial had been scheduled to start in January but was delayed until Monday.

Salim Bashir, a lawyer for Huong, said previously she was prepared to testify under oath for her defense.

“She is confident and ready to give her version of the story. It is completely different from what the prosecutors had painted. She was filming a prank and had no intention to kill or injure anyone,” he said.

Lawyers for the women have previously said they were pawns in a political assassination with clear links to the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, and that the prosecution failed to show the women had any intention to kill. Intent to kill is crucial to a murder charge under Malaysian law.

Malaysian officials have never officially accused North Korea and have made it clear they don’t want the trial politicized.

Kim was the eldest son in the current generation of North Korea’s ruling family. He had been living abroad for years but could have been seen as a threat to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s rule.

Murder carries a mandatory sentence of hanging, but Malaysia’s government plans to abolish the death penalty and has put all executions on hold until the laws are changed.