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 prosecutors unexpectedly dropped the murder charge against her.
Siti Aisyah cried and hugged her Vietnamese co-defendant, Doan Thi Huong, before leaving the courtroom. She told reporters that she had only learned Monday morning that she would be freed.
“I am surprised and very happy,” she said. “I didn’t expect it.”
The two young women were accused of smearing VX nerve agent on Kim Jong Nam’s face in an airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 13, 2017. 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 same morning Kim was killed.
The High Court judge discharged Aisyah without an acquittal after prosecutors said they wanted to withdraw the murder charge against her. They did not give a reason.
The trial will resume Thursday, with prosecutors expected to reply to a request by Huong’s lawyers asking the government to similarly withdraw the charges against her.
Indonesia’s government said its continual high-level lobbying resulted in Aisyah’s release. The 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, believed that she was part of a reality TV show and never had any intention of killing Kim.
The ministry said Malaysia’s attorney general used his authority under Malaysia’s criminal procedure code to not continue the prosecution following a request from Indonesia’s law and human rights minister.
It said that over the past two years, Aisyah’s plight was raised in “every bilateral Indonesia-Malaysia meeting,” including at the president’s level, the vice president’s level and in regular meetings of the foreign minister and other ministers with their Malaysian counterparts.
Indonesia’s ambassador to Malaysia, Rusdi Kirana, said he was thankful to the Malaysian government. “We believe she is not guilty,” he said.
Prosecutor Iskandar Ahmad said that the discharge not amounting to acquittal means Aisyah can be recharged, but that there are no such plans for now.
Aisyah was quickly ushered out of the court building in an embassy car. Her lawyers said she was heading to the Indonesian Embassy and was expected to fly to Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, soon.
Meanwhile, Huong said she was shocked by the development.
“I am in shock. My mind is blank,” a distraught Huong told reporters through a translator after Aisyah left.
Huong’s lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik said Huong felt Aisyah’s discharge was unfair to her as 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.”
A High Court judge last August had found there was enough evidence to infer Aisyah, Huong and the four missing North Koreans had engaged in a “well-planned conspiracy” to kill Kim. The defense phase of the trial had been scheduled to start in January but was delayed until Monday.
Salim Bashir, another lawyer for Huong, said previously she was prepared to testify under oath for her defense.
“She is confident and ready to give her version of the story. It is completely different from what the prosecutors had painted. She was filming a prank and had no intention to kill or injure anyone,” he told The Associated Press.
Lawyers for the women have previously said 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 Jong Nam 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.