KL frees Indonesian accused in Kim Jong Nam's killing

Above: Ms Siti Aisyah with her lawyer Gooi Soon Seng at the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur after she was freed yesterday. Attorney-General Tommy Thomas said she was released after "taking into account the good relations" between the two countries
Ms Siti Aisyah with her lawyer Gooi Soon Seng at the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur after she was freed yesterday. Attorney-General Tommy Thomas said she was released after "taking into account the good relations" between the two countries. PHOTO: REUTERS
Above: Ms Siti Aisyah with her lawyer Gooi Soon Seng at the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur after she was freed yesterday. Attorney-General Tommy Thomas said she was released after "taking into account the good relations" between the two countries
The trial of Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong (centre), who was arrested alongside Ms Aisyah in 2017, was postponed yesterday pending a request by her lawyer for the murder charge against her to be dropped too.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Surprise move to drop charges comes 2 years after her arrest; co-accused's trial postponed

An Indonesian woman accused of killing the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was freed yesterday after Malaysian prosecutors dropped charges against her in a shock move in court.

Malaysia released Ms Siti Aisyah - one of two women accused of assassinating Mr Kim Jong Nam in February 2017 - after "taking into account the good relations" between the two countries, Malaysia's Attorney-General Tommy Thomas wrote in a letter announcing her acquittal to Indonesia's Minister of Law and Human Rights Yasonna Laoly.

The Malaysian Attorney-General's Chambers issued the order last Friday not to prosecute Ms Aisyah, 26, according to the letter revealed by the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

The Indonesian government had repeatedly lobbied for charges against her to be dropped and for her to be allowed to return home.

Upon considering the request, Mr Thomas wrote that the "prosecution will request the court to order a discharge not amounting to an acquittal".

The news comes two years after Ms Aisyah was arrested alongside Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 30, for the murder of Mr Kim at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

The two women had always denied the murder, saying they believed they were taking part in a prank for a reality show and were tricked by North Korean agents into killing Mr Kim Jong Nam by smearing VX nerve agent on his face at the Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017. Ms Aisyah had been working as a masseuse in Kuala Lumpur, while Doan described herself as an entertainer.

Interpol issued a red alert for four North Koreans who Malaysian police identified as suspects and who left the country hours after the murder.

At the embassy press conference after she was freed, Ms Aisyah said: "I feel very happy."

When asked what was the first thing she wanted to do, she said: "I want to see my family."

Accompanied by Indonesian officials, Ms Aisyah was yesterday flown to Jakarta, arriving at 5.30pm local time. President Joko Widodo said he will be meeting her today.

Her home town in Pandeglang, Banten province, is a drive of about three hours from Jakarta. People in her home town cheered her release. Her aunt, Ms Darsinah, was quoted by Detik news as saying: "Our big family is grateful because we are confident Siti is not a murderer."

At the news conference in Kuala Lumpur, Mr Yasonna said that in his letter to Malaysia, he gave three reasons why the prosecution should drop its charges against Ms Aisyah, and these included that she was a victim of deception and had nothing to gain from committing the act.

"Ms Aisyah was led to believe that her actions were for a reality show. Hence, she had no real understanding of the real reason she had to perform as she was asked to, and had no intention of killing Kim Jong Nam," Mr Yasonna wrote. He also said Ms Aisyah "had no awareness whatsoever that she was being used as an intelligence tool of North Korea".

"This has been a long journey undertaken by the Indonesian government," Mr Yasonna said during the news conference.

He said Indonesian officials held meetings with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Mr Thomas and Malaysian police last year as part of their lobbying efforts to free Ms Aisyah.

Her release raised the question of whether her co-accused Doan would also be freed soon. Doan's trial was postponed yesterday pending a request by her lawyer for the murder charge against her to be dropped too.

Mr Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, who represents Doan, asked the court to postpone yesterday's session, where his client was initially scheduled to testify for the first time.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 12, 2019, with the headline 'KL frees Indonesian accused in Kim Jong Nam's killing'. Print Edition | Subscribe