Updated 1525 KST to include reason for defendant’s release as provided by the Malaysian Attorney General
One of the two suspects on trial in Malaysia for the murder of the North Korean leader’s half-brother Kim Jong Nam was set free early Monday as a result of an apparent political gesture, as the other was set to mount their defense the same day.
Indonesian defendant Siti Aisyah (27) was released after hearing the ruling in court, where she and Vietnamese defendant Doan Thi Huong (30) appeared Monday at the start of Doan’s defense phase of the trial.
Doan’s lawyer, meanwhile, told reporters later Monday morning that they would also appeal for the withdrawal of the murder charges, and have been granted an adjournment until Thursday.
The reason for Siti Aisyah’s release was revealed later in the day as having been the decision of Malaysian Attorney General/Public Prosecutor Tommy Tomas, taken after receiving a request from the Indonesian Minister of Law and Human Rights.
In a March 8-dated letter uploaded to Twitter by Kuala Lumpur-based Channel News Asia correspondent Sumisha Naidu, Thomas said that “taking into account the good relations between our respective countries, I am pleased to inform you of my decision for the prosecution to enter nolle prosequi against Siti Aishah (sic) pursuant to Section 254 of our Criminal Procedure.”
#KimJongNam trial: The correspondence between Indonesia’s Minister of Law and Human Rights and Malaysia’s Attorney General that led to Indonesian Siti Aisyah’s release. Indonesia made a plea for the “good relations” between the countries to be considered. AG said he had done so pic.twitter.com/x4gZ0oYAv9
— Sumisha Naidu (@sumishanaidu) March 11, 2019
The section in reference allows the Public Prosecutor to dismiss a defendant if they so decide, but does not officially acquit them of criminal accusations unless additionally specified by the court.
Indonesian Minister of Law and Human Rights Yasonna Laoly had requested Siti Aisyah’s release under the conditions that she was not aware of the murder plot involved in her actions, that she was in fact deceived into the act, and that there was no evidence she stood to benefit from being involved in such a plot, according to a letter also uploaded Monday by Naidu.
His letter characterized the request as an appeal to “reconsider the charges” and “allow her to return to Indonesia, taking into account the good relations between our Countries.”
Another document from the Indonesian Embassy in Malaysia uploaded by Naidu said that Jakarta had kept the issue of Siti Aisyah’s release on the agenda throughout various bilateral meetings since her arrest.
Siti Aisyah’s lawyer Gooi Soon Seng spoke to press outside the courthouse following the decision, telling reporters that a lack of direct evidence may have led to her being set free.
“There was no direct evidence that she applied anything on Kim Jong Nam, as you can see from the CCTV recording,” he said, according to video from local press.
“What was purely found was merely traces of degrading products of VX, and that alone is very circumstantial, and the fact that the clothes that were found did not have the DNA of Siti Aisyah and also the fact that the shirt, the integrity of the shirt was not properly preserved,” he added.
The defense had previously complained over a lack of access to the prosecution’s evidence regarding the substances found on Kim Jong Nam’s shirt worn at the time of his death.
High Court Judge Azmi bin Ariffin did not provide a reason for releasing Siti Aisyah, according to a quote carried in local outlet Utusan, adding that her release “does not amount to an acquittal.”
Reuters reported that she was seen exiting the courthouse soon after, getting into an Indonesian embassy vehicle.
Siti Aisyah was originally scheduled to mount her defense before Doan’s – beginning in January – before the court rescheduled her defense to begin in late May.
The defense team for both suspects then won an appeal in late January which forced the prosecution to provide them with previously privileged witness statements.
The defense phase officially kicked off last August after High Court Judge Azmi ruled evidence presented by the prosecution was “credible,” requiring Doan and Siti Aisyah’s lawyers to defend their innocence in the face of possible death sentences.
Meanwhile across town in Kuala Lumpur, the North Korean embassy was discovered to have been defaced with graffiti Sunday night denouncing Kim Jong Un, according to additional reporting from Sumisha Naidu.
JUST IN: North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur defaced with graffiti. First spotted last night, ahead of #KimJongNam trial resuming & South Korean President’s visit. The writing supposedly says “free North Korea…we are rising up”. And “Down with Kim Jong Un”. pic.twitter.com/u9nV7ZpV7v
— Sumisha Naidu (@sumishanaidu) March 11, 2019
Photos posted online by Naidu show vandalized front walls of the embassy Monday, with graffiti including what appeared to be the logo of the Cheollima Civil Defense Force – a shadowy organization which claimed responsibility for the safety of Kim Jong Nam’s family.
In a post titled “Courage [in] Kuala Lumpur” uploaded early Monday, the group left a brief message: “[You North Koreans] may now be lonely, quietly yearning for freedom, but through courage, we will be able to meet.”
Another post from hours earlier claimed the group is working on a new homepage, and asked readers to leave their name and email address to receive updates through their newsletter.
News identifying Kim as the North Korean leader’s brother broke the following day, with reports suggesting that South Korean officials were mistakenly contacted by Malaysian authorities to help identify the deceased man.
Kim Jong Nam was at the time of his death using a North Korean passport and traveling under the name Kim Chol , and while a diplomatic dispute between Malaysia and the DPRK did ensue following the incident, North Korean officials still have not acknowledged Kim’s identity.
Aisyah and Doan were arrested by police in Kuala Lumpur within days, while a number of North Korean suspects were also pursued.
Eight North Korean men were initially sought by police in connection to Kim’s death, though four fled Malaysia on the day of the killing – before news of Kim’s death broke.
Of the remaining four North Koreans, one man was arrested but later released due to lack of evidence and deported, while the other three went into hiding until late March when they were allowed to return to North Korea after eventually making statements to police.
Aisyah and Doan have claimed to have been recruited by North Korean agents to participate in recorded “pranks” weeks before the February 13 incident.
The two reportedly received money for a number of routine “pranks” in Malaysia and Cambodia similar to the smearing of chemicals on Kim Jong Nam’s face, directed by North Korean agents posing under false identities – though previously the women used lotion or even hot sauce instead of VX components.
Malaysian prosecutors, too, later officially placed blame on four North Korean men for their roles in helping recruit the women and carry out the attack, but Aisyah and Doan are the only ones standing trial for the murder.
Their trial began in October 2017, where the two women pleaded not guilty to murder charges and where prosecutors argued Aisyah and Doan were responsible for the murder with the help of the North Koreans who remained at-large.
Many problems appeared to arise, however, from the prosecution’s handling of evidence, having returned key evidence to North Korea following forensic inspection along with Kim Jong Nam’s body in late March.
Siti Aisyah’s lawyer said Monday following his client’s release that he “still believe[s] that North Korea had something to do with it.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: File photo
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