Vietnamese woman in Jong-nam murder case seeks freedom

Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong is escorted by Malaysian police as she arrives at the Shah Alam High Court March 14, 2019. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong is escorted by Malaysian police as she arrives at the Shah Alam High Court March 14, 2019. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

JOHOR BARU, March 14 — A Vietnamese woman accused of assassinating the North Korean leader’s half-brother is expected to learn today whether she will be freed, days after the shock release of her Indonesian co-accused. 

Wearing a bulletproof vest and a red headscarf, Doan Thi Huong arrived at the Malaysian court where she has been on trial for a year and a half over the 2017 assassination of Kim Jong-nam at Kuala Lumpur airport.

On Monday a murder charge was unexpectedly withdrawn against the Indonesian woman accused alongside her, Siti Aisyah, and she flew back to Jakarta to a jubilant welcome. 

Lawyers for Huong — who could face death by hanging if convicted — then asked the Malaysian government to withdraw the murder charge against her, and prosecutors are expected to announce whether her bid for freedom has been successful.

The women have always denied murder. They say they were tricked by North Korean spies into carrying out the Cold War-style killing using a highly toxic nerve agent, and believed it was a prank for a reality TV show.

Their lawyers presented them as scapegoats and said the real killers were four North Koreans. The men were suspected of being the masterminds behind the plot but fled Malaysia shortly after the assassination.

The trial began in October 2017 but there had been no hearings since August last year when the prosecution finished presenting its case. 

Proceedings were scheduled to resume Monday with Huong, 30, testifying — but the unexpected release of Aisyah lead to the trial being adjourned.

Indonesia mounted a diplomatic campaign to free Aisyah, with the country’s justice minister writing to Malaysia’s attorney general asking for her release. 

Since Aisyah’s release, Vietnam has stepped up pressure — the country’s justice minster has also written to the Malaysian government seeking Huong’s release and the Vietnamese foreign minister has pressed his Malaysian counterpart on the issue.

South Korea has accused the North of ordering the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, the estranged relative of Kim Jong-un and once seen as heir apparent to the North’s leadership. Pyongyang denies the claim. — AFP

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