A day after an Indonesian woman on trial for murdering the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother walked free, Vietnam called on Malaysia to drop charges as well against the Vietnamese defendant who remained in custody in connection with the February 2017 assassination of Kim Jong Nam at a Kuala Lumpur airport.
Vietnamese Foreign Affairs Minister Pham Binh Minh said that he had spoken with Malaysian Foreign Affairs Minister Saifuddin Abdullah in an effort to free Doan Thi Huong.
In Vietnam, Doan Van Thanh told RFA’s Vietnamese Service he hoped Hanoi would press Kuala Lumpur to release his daughter.
“For the time being, I expect Huong to be released and go home, but I don’t know what Malaysia will do,” he told RFA. “I do expect the Vietnamese government to help with proving Huong innocent and getting her released.”
Nguyen Thi Vy, Huong's stepmother, told the German news agency DPA it was "unfair" to release Indonesian suspect Siti Aisyah but not her daughter.
"I think it is unfair because the two girls involved in the same case did the same thing, but one has been released, so why has the other not been?" she said by telephone from one from her home in northern Nam Dinh province.
Huong’s trial is set to resume at Thursday if the Attorney General’s Chamber rejected her defense team’s application, a Malaysian judge said.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Tuesday he did not know of any negotiations with Indonesia that led to Siti Aisyah’s release.
The decision to drop charges against her was done “within the law,” said the leader of Malaysia’s new government.
In Indonesia, meanwhile, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo welcomed Siti and her parents to the presidential palace in Jakarta, and praised diplomatic efforts to secure her release.
Diplomatic effort directed by Widodo
Asked Tuesday if negotiations with Indonesia had helped secure Aisyah’s release, Mahathir told reporters, “I do not have such information.”
“I do not know the details. … But from what I understand, the prosecution can withdraw the charge,” the prime minister said. “There is a process within the law that one can withdraw the charges and that’s what was done.”
On Monday, as Doan began her defense phase of the trial after a pause of several months, prosecutors announced they were not pressing ahead with charges against her Indonesian co-defendant, who left the courtroom and then flew to Jakarta.
The two women were charged with assassinating Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-sibling of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in a chemical attack using a nerve agent, VX.
Malaysian Attorney General Tommy Thomas on Monday made public a letter where he had informed a senior Indonesian official of the upcoming acquittal and release of Aisyah, saying his decision in the matter had taken “into account the good relations between our respective countries.”
The Indonesian embassy in Kuala Lumpur had described Aisyah’s release as the culmination of a diplomatic effort directed by Widodo, who is aiming to win a second term in office in elections scheduled for April 17.
As he thanked Malaysia for releasing Aisyah, Rusdi Kirana, Indonesia’s ambassador to Kuala Lumpur, told reporters that President Jokowi had spoken to Mahathir about discharging her from Malaysian custody during their meeting last year at Bogor Palace in Indonesia.
In addition, Indonesian Justice Minister Yasonna Laoly, who welcomed Aisyah at an airport in Jakarta on Monday, discussed efforts to win her freedom.
“At the behest of the president, the chief of the national police, the attorney general and other officials worked together to find ways to free her and communicated well with the previous government of Prime Minister Najib Razak as well as the government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad,” he said.
On Tuesday, Jokowi spoke to reporters after meeting with Aisyah and her family.
“This is how the government pays attention to its citizens, and yesterday the government, represented by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, officially handed Siti Aisyah back to her family. I welcome her, and congratulate her return to her family,” he said.
Doan is scheduled to return to court later this week.
Azmi Ariffin, the judge at the Shah Alam High Court who granted Aisyah a discharge not amounting to acquittal – meaning she could be charged again later if there was new evidence in the case – said he was “reluctant” to grant the petition on Doan’s behalf.
Reported by RFA's Vietnamese Service and by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.