One of the women suspected of killing Kim Jong Nam, the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was freed Monday after prosecutors unexpectedly dropped charges against her.
Siti Aisyah, 26, will now be allowed to return home to Indonesia, Malaysian officials say, after being held for over two years in Malaysia. She and the second suspect in the murder, Doan Thi Huong, 30, from Vietnam, both appeared in court on Monday, but the acquittal only applies to her.
“I feel very happy,” she told reporters at a news conference, thanking everyone who worked for her release. “I didn’t expect that today will be the day of my freedom.”
The two women, who maintain their innocence, were accused of delivering the potent VX nerve agent that killed Kim Jong Nam in an airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in February 2017. Both Aisyah and Huong have said that they believed they were taking part in a prank for a television show, and thought they were applying lotion on the man’s face. U.S. officials have said the orders came from Pyongyang.
The pair were the only ones held by Malaysian authorities, after four North Korean suspects fled the country the day of Kim Jong Nam’s murder. He was the eldest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, and had lived abroad since 2003.
In a statement, Malaysia’s Attorney General Tommy Thomas said Aisyah’s release came after intervention from the Indonesian government, which has repeatedly lobbied for charges against her to be dropped and for her to be allowed home. The decision was made “taking into account the good relations” between Indonesia and Malaysia, Thomas wrote in a letter announcing her acquittal to Indonesia’s Minister of Law and Human Rights.
The young woman’s case has been raised at every bilateral meeting between Indonesia and Malaysia, Indonesian officials say, including when Indonesian President Joko Widodo met with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad last July. Both are Muslim-majority nations, with a closely-related language and deep bilateral ties.
Gooi Soon Seng, Aisyah’s lawyer, said the acquittal has completely nullified the case against her, as though she has never been charged.
“We are grateful the public prosecutor has come to this conclusion, because we truly believe she is merely a scapegoat and she is innocent,” he said.
Aisyah is expected to return home to Indonesia Monday evening, as officials make preparations for her departure.
The trial against Huong, however, will continue on Thursday. She was expected to testify for the first time in court on Monday, but she only read a few lines of her prepared statement tearfully. Her lawyers have asked for the attorney general to review the case, and for the charge to be withdrawn on the same grounds as Aisyah’s.
“We are hoping against hope that the charges against her will be dropped,” said Teh Poh Teik, Huong’s lawyer. “It is unfair that despite the case being the same for both, that one could have been dropped without explanation, while the other is being set to continue.”
Huong grew up in Nghia Binh, Vietnam, not far from Hanoi, and is thought to have been recruited by North Korean agents while working at a bar in the Vietnamese capital. She flew to Kuala Lumpur a week before Kim Jong Nam’s slaying on Feb. 13, 2017. Aisyah was a migrant worker in Kuala Lumpur, and is believed to have approached by a man at the nightclub she was working at who convinced her to participate in the prank.
A Malaysian High Court judge found last August there was enough evidence to prosecute Aisyah, Huong and the four North Koreans, who fled the country, on a conspiracy to kill Kim Jong Nam. But lawyers have consistently argued that they were merely used for the political assassination, which had clear links to North Korea.
(c) 2019, The Washington Post · Shibani Mahtani