The Indonesian woman accused of murdering North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, at a Kuala Lumpur airport in 2017 was freed Monday after Malaysian prosecutors declined to move forward with their case against her.
An emotional Siti Aisyah left court Monday morning and was expected to leave for her home country soon after, officials said. The court session adjourned not long after, as lawyers for her co-defendant, Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, said they would petition for her to be freed as well.
"I move to have the charges against Siti Aisyah withdrawn under section 254(1),” prosecutor Mohamad Iskandar Ahmad said in court early Monday, as the trial resumed more than two years after Kim Jong Nam was assassinated on Feb. 13, 2017.
Prosecutors did not state why they were dropping the charges, Aisyah’s defense attorney Gooi Soon Seng told reporters.
But in a letter shown to reporters on Monday, Malaysian Attorney General Tommy Thomas informed a senior Indonesian official of the upcoming acquittal and release, and said his decision in the matter was “taking into account the good relations between our respective countries.”
Aisyah cried and waved as she was escorted by two of her defense counsels out of the Shah Alam High Court. Indonesian officials said they would rush to complete her paperwork to enable her to return to Indonesia immediately.
“We will try to settle everything by today," Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Lalu Mohamad Iqbal told BenarNews. Asked whether she would return home the same day, he said: "It is possible. If we settle everything by the end of the day, she will fly home today."
“I am shocked and I hope to be freed too,” a tearful Doan said through a translator during a court recess. She had been scheduled to take the witness stand as the defense phase of the trial got under way on Monday, but read only three sentences before her lawyers halted the testimony.
“On behalf of Doan, we will ask for the [attorney general] to review the case for the charge to be withdrawn on the same grounds as Siti Aisyah. We will make the application today,” lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik said.
“We were surprised by Siti Aisyah's decision. We were not informed of it earlier on,” he told reporters.
“Doan is not in a state to testify. She is traumatized. She broke down and cried,” he said, adding: “This decision is unfair. There is no equality and justice before the law. If Siti Aisyah is acquitted, so should Doan.”
Judge Azmi Ariffin said he was “reluctant” to grant the petition on Doan’s behalf. He said the trial would resume at 10 a.m. Thursday if the Attorney General’s Chamber rejected the application.
He granted Aisyah a discharge not amounting to acquittal, meaning she could be charged again later if there is new evidence in the case.
In a statement issued at midday Monday, the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur described Aisyah’s release as the culmination of a long diplomatic effort directed by President Joko Widodo, who is aiming to win a second term in office in April elections.
“In keeping with the president's instructions, this issue has been raised in every bilateral Indonesian-Malaysia meeting, at the level of the president, vice president and regular foreign minister meetings,” the statement said.
Aisyah, a divorced mother-of-one who worked at a hotel spa before her arrest, was to fly home Monday aboard a private jet owned by Indonesia’s ambassador to Malaysia, Rusdi Kirana, her lawyer said following a press conference at the Indonesian Embassy on Monday afternoon.
“I am very happy for finally being freed. I have never thought that today will be the day that I’m released,” Aisyah told reporters at the event.
“The thing I would do when I step in Indonesia is that I would like to see my family and parents.”
Earlier Monday, Gooi speculated that the prosecution had withdrawn charges because it ultimately could not prove them.
“There was no direct evidence that she applied anything on Kim Jong Nam. No evidence. The CCTV did not show that she did the act to the effect that she applied anything on the face of Kim Jong Nam. What was purely found was traces of the degrading product of VX,” he said, referring to traces of the banned chemical weapon found on Siti Aisyah’s clothes.
Aisyah and Doan were accused of using VX nerve agent to kill Kim Jong Nam as he checked in for a flight at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2.
Prosecutors said the pair approached Kim and smeared a colorless and odorless substance across his face. He died about 20 minutes later. The two young women were arrested within days.
Both pleaded not guilty, with their lawyers arguing that they were misled into thinking they were taking part in a prank for a Japanese comedy show on YouTube.
But prosecutors argued that the two Southeast Asian women, along with four North Korean suspects at large, took part in a premeditated attack and practiced for it in advance