SHAH ALAM (AFP, REUTERS) - The trial of two women accused of killing the estranged half-brother of North Korea’s leader will begin on Oct 2, Malaysia’s High Court said on Friday (July 28).
Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, and Doan Thi Huong, 28, from Vietnam, are charged with murdering Kim Jong Nam at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Feb 13 by smearing his face with VX, a chemical the United Nations describes as a weapon of mass destruction.
Both appeared in the High Court in Kuala Lumpur on Friday, where the date for the trial was decided. They could face the death penalty if convicted.
The women had arrived at a heavily guarded court just outside the capital Kuala Lumpur, wearing bullet-proof vests, and were led inside ahead of the hearing. It was the women's first appearance at the High Court.
About 200 police officers were deployed outside the High Court in Sham Alam for the high-profile case, including armed officers.
The suspects have maintained that they were duped into believing they were taking part in a reality TV show instead of a murder.
Judge Azmi Ariffin told the 30-minute hearing at the High Court in Shah Alam that the trial would begin on Oct 2 and would take place over 23 days. “I am making a ruling that both the cases will be tried jointly,” he told the packed courtroom.
Both cases would be tried jointly, with pleas taken at the first hearing, he added. If convicted, the women could face the death penalty.
Doan smiled during the hearing, but Siti Aisyah was in tears afterwards, with her lawyers seen trying to calm her. Defence lawyers have warned previously that they feared “trial by ambush”, with police not sharing evidence.
Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, a lawyer for Huong, said the judge had decided to take the women’s pleas at the start of the trial. The women’s lawyers had previously said they expected the pair to enter not guilty pleas on Friday.
Prosecutor Muhamad Iskandar Ahmad said the prosecution had given a further 33 documents and CCTV recordings to the defence, and would call between 30 and 40 witnesses, depending on the progress of the trial.
“Having seen the CCTV recordings, I hope the judge will have a better understanding of how the situation took place,” said Gooi Soon Seng, Siti Aisyah’s lawyer, adding that he had asked for a visit to the crime scene during the trial.
Kim was the eldest son of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. His half-brother, Kim Jong Un, became North Korean leader when their father died in 2011.
Seoul accuses North Korea of being behind the murder of Kim Jong Nam, a charge Pyongyang denies. The murder – which took place as Kim Jong Nam was about to board a flight to Macau – sparked a serious diplomatic row between Malaysia and North Korea, with Kuala Lumpur expelling the North’s ambassador and Pyongyang banning Malaysians from leaving the country.
Tensions eased when Malaysia agreed to the return of Kim's body to Pyongyang. Under the terms of that agreement, nine Malaysians prevented from leaving Pyongyang were freed and three North Koreans in Malaysia were allowed to go home.
Police are still trying to trace four North Koreans suspected of having taken part in the murder plot but who are believed to have returned to their capital immediately after the killing.