One of the two women accused of assassinating Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean leader’s half-brother was freed Monday after Malaysian prosecutors dropped a murder charge against her.
The discharge came a year and a half after the lady went on trial.
Siti Aisyah, an Indonesian, smiled as she was ushered through a pack of journalists and into a car outside the court, where she had been on trial alongside a Vietnamese woman for the murder at Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017.
“I feel happy. I did not know this will happen. I did not expect it,” said the 27-year-old, who was wearing a red headscarf.
It was a surprise move as the Shah Alam High Court, outside Kuala Lumpur, had been due only to hear Vietnamese accused Doan Thi Huong testify on Monday.
Huong’s lawyer said she was “traumatised” that only Aisyah had been released, and the court agreed to adjourn the Vietnamese suspect’s testimony to allow her legal team to apply for her murder charge to be dropped.
The women had always denied murder, saying they were tricked by North Korean spies into carrying out the Cold War-style hit using VX nerve agent and believed it was a prank for a reality TV show.
Their lawyers presented them as scapegoats, saying that authorities were unable to catch the real killers. Four North Koreans — formally accused of the murder alongside the women — fled Malaysia shortly after the assassination.
The trial, which began in October 2017, had been due to resume Monday with the defence stage of proceedings after a break of several months.
But at the start of the hearing, prosecutor Muhammad Iskandar Ahmad requested that the murder charge against Aisyah be withdrawn and that she be given a discharge, without providing a reason.
The judge agreed to the request for a discharge not amounting to an acquittal, and ordered Aisyah’s immediate release. This means Aisyah has not been formally cleared of the charge and could in theory be arrested on suspicion of Kim’s murder again.
Aisyah’s lawyer Gooi Soon Seng said he was grateful for the decision: “We still truly believe that she is merely a scapegoat and she’s innocent”.
But speaking to reporters through an interpreter in court, Huong said she felt “terrible” about her own position.
“I do not know what will happen to me now. I am innocent — please pray for me,” she said. Huong’s lawyer, Hisyam Teh Pok Teik, added that she was “traumatised by what happened in court”.
In the northern Vietnamese province of Nam Dinh, her father Doan Van Thanh expressed shock his daughter was still behind bars and called for her release.
“Why did they release the Indonesian girl without releasing my daughter?” he told AFP.
It was not immediately clear why Aisyah was released and not Huong, but Indonesia often makes concerted diplomatic efforts to get its citizens on death row overseas released.
“There has been a long process to free her… since she was detained,” Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir told reporters in Jakarta.