An Indonesian woman held for two years on suspicion of killing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half brother was freed from custody Monday after Malaysian prosecutors unexpectedly dropped the murder charge against her.
Siti Aisyah cried and hugged her Vietnamese co-defendant, Doan Thi Huong, before leaving the courtroom and being ushered away in an Indonesian Embassy car. She told reporters that she had only learned Monday morning that she would be freed.
Huong was distraught following Aisyah’s release.
“I am in shock. My mind is blank,” Huong told reporters after Aisyah left.
The trial is to resume Thursday, when prosecutors are expected to reply to a request by Huong’s lawyers for the government to also withdraw the charges against her.
Indonesia’s government had lobbied repeatedly for Aisyah’s release. Vietnam has pushed less hard and recently hosted Kim Jong Un for an official visit and a summit with President Donald Trump.
Kim Jong Un’s half brother, Kim Jong Nam, died after being assaulted in an airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 13, 2017. The two young women were accused of smearing VX nerve agent on his face.
They have said they thought they were taking part in a prank for a TV show. They had been the only suspects in custody after four North Korean suspects fled the country the morning Kim was killed.
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On Monday, the High Court judge discharged Aisyah without an acquittal after prosecutors applied to drop the murder charge against her. They did not give any reason.
Officials said she was expected to fly back to Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, later Monday.
“I feel very happy,” Aisyah said at a news conference at the Indonesian Embassy. “I didn’t expect that today will be my freedom day.”
Indonesia’s government said its continued high-level lobbying resulted in Aisyah’s release. Its 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, never had any intention of killing Kim.
The ministry said that over the past two years, Aisyah’s plight was raised in “every bilateral Indonesia-Malaysia meeting,” including at the presidential level, the vice-presidential level and in regular meetings of the foreign minister and other ministers with their Malaysian counterparts.
Aisyah’s release comes just a month before Indonesia’s general election and is seen as a boost to President Joko Widodo, who is seeking re-election.
Aisyah thanked Widodo and his government for helping secure her release.
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Wearing a red headscarf and a black flowery traditional dress, she was composed during the news conference. She said she was treated well in prison and received plenty of encouragement, but that she was eager to see her family.
Prosecutor Iskandar Ahmad said Aisyah’s discharge without an acquittal means she can be charged again if there is fresh evidence, but that there are no such plans now.
Huong’s lawyer, Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, said Huong felt Aisyah’s discharge was unfair to her because 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 … there must be justice.”
A High Court judge last August had found there was enough evidence to infer that Aisyah, Huong and the four missing North Koreans engaged in a “well-planned conspiracy” to kill Kim Jong Nam. The defence phase of the trial had been scheduled to start in January but was delayed until Monday.
Lawyers for the women have previously said that 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 Kim Jong Un’s rule.
Associated Press writer Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.
© 2019 The Canadian Press