Vietnam pledges help for Kim Jong Nam murder accused as sympathy rises

Vietnamese national Doan Thi Huong (left) is escorted with a heavy police presence after a court appearance at the magistrates' court in Sepang on March 1, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

HANOI (REUTERS) - Vietnam on Thursday (March 2) emphasised the legal support it was giving a Vietnamese woman charged in the bizarre murder of Kim Jong Nam in Malaysia after growing calls at home for more action to help her.

Doan Thi Huong, 28, an entertainment worker from a rural area of northern Vietnam, could be hanged if she is found guilty of helping to kill the half brother of North Korea's leader in an airport assassination using a toxic nerve agent.

Pictures of a dishevelled looking Huong leaving court in a bulletproof vest on Wednesday brought an upwelling of sympathy in Vietnam and drew widespread calls on social media for more to be done for her.

Vietnam's foreign ministry said it met with Huong's family on Thursday to explain to them the legal assistance that she would get and emphasised that it was doing what it could to protect her legal rights.

"Vietnam's embassy in Malaysia will continue to implement citizen protection measures within their permitted rights to ensure proceedings are fair and objective," the statement said, adding that the embassy was finding appropriate lawyers for her.

Huong and an Indonesian woman, 25-year-old Siti Aisyah, were charged with murdering Kim on Feb 13. Diplomats who visited them both have said they believed they were part of a television prank and were unwitting pawns in the killing.

Vietnam's lawyers' federation sent a statement to the foreign and justice ministries offering to help.

On social media, a campaign was started to raise money to support Huong and her family. Some people compared Vietnam's handling of the case unfavourably to that of Indonesia's in a country where criticism of the government is muted.

The foreign ministry statement on Thursday was the most detailed on the assistance for Huong to date. It took 10 days after Malaysia said it had arrested Huong for Vietnam to confirm that she was Vietnamese.

US officials and South Korean intelligence have said the murder was organised by North Korean agents. Kim Jong Nam had criticised the regime of his family and his half-brother Kim Jong Un.

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