In a landmark decision that could strain Malaysia's ties with North Korean, one of the two women who had been facing the death penalty in Malaysia for dosing Kim Jong Nam with a lethal chemical agent has been freed, according to media reports.
According to Reuters, Siti Aisyah, 26, who had been on trial in Kuala Lumpur along with her Vietnamese co-defendant, Doan Thi Huong, turned to her co-defendand and hugged her while both women cried in the dock as the judgment was read.
The two women have been sitting in jail since February 2017, when they allegedly poisoned Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, with the banned liquid chemical agent VX at a Kuala Lumpur airport.
Following the decision in Siti's case (the two women are facing separate cases though they are jointly on trial), a lawyer for Huong also requested an acquittal. The trial has been suspended until Thursday to allow time for the Malaysian attorney general to make a decision.
After her release, Siti, clad in a black traditional Malay dress and headscarf, was rushed to the Indonesian embassy, where she gave a brief statement to the media.
"I feel so happy. I did not expect that today I would be released,” she said, adding that she had been treated well in prison.
The two women told authorities that they thought they had been hired to participate in a reality TV show prank, and that they didn't realize what they had been tricked into doing until it was too late. It's widely believed that they were fooled by North Korean intelligence agents as part of a plot organized by Kim's government. CCTV footage from the Kuala Lumpur airport, where the attack took place, shows the women dosing Kim with what's believed to be the deadly agent shortly before he contacted airport staff in medical distress. He died on the way to the hospital.
Kim, the younger half brother of the North Korean leader, had been living in self-imposed exile in Macau, having left North Korea after his brother rose to power in 2011. He had reportedly been critical of the Kim family's dynastic rule.
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The women had previously told the court they did not know they were participating in a deadly attack and their alleged North Korean coconspirators had led them to believe they were carrying out a prank for a reality TV show.
Gooi said there was no "direct evidence" of the Indonesian woman's involvement in the killing.
"We truly believe she's a scapegoat and she is innocent as we laid out [before]," he said. "I still believe that North Korea had something to do with it."
The prosecutor said the discharge - not amounting to an acquittal - means Sita can be recharged but there are no such plans for now.
Indonesian Ambassador Rusdi Kirana expressed gratitude for the decision.
"We feel the court is fair. She's our daughter. Every Indonesian is our children," Rusdi said.
While Siti flew back to Jakarta on Monday accompanied by the Indonesian Law Minister Yasonna H. Laoly, who told Reuters that Siti's release after spending more than two years in prison was the product of high-level talks between the Indonesia and Malaysian governments. However, the fate of her co-defendent, Doan Thi Huong, remains uncertain. Her lawyers said they would apply for a full aquittal.
Huong's fate remains unclear as her hearing was adjourned until Thursday.
Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, Huong's lawyer, said he is applying for a full acquittal and his client was "traumatised" by the decision to free Siti but not her.
"We want Doan to be treated equally. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander," Hisyam said. "They withdrew the charge against one but not the other. What is the basis? We need to know."
Unlike Huong, Siti had no traces of VX in her fingernails and suffered no symptoms of VX poisoning.
Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, had spoken out publicly against his family's dynastic control of the isolated, nuclear-armed nation.
He had been living under China's protection in the territory of Macau.
The Malaysian government has avoided accusing North Korea of involvement and sought to de-politicise the case as much as possible.
While Interpol had issued a red notice for four North Koreans who were identified as suspects by Malaysian police, and who left the country shortly after the murder, Malaysia has avoided directly implicating the North Korean government in the killing in the hopes of avoiding it becoming politically charged. Though Indonesia hasn't shied away from accusing North Korea of masterminding the plot, claiming that Siti had been "deceived and had no awareness whatsoever" by North Korean intelligence agents.