A day after one of two women on trial for murdering the North Korean dictator’s half-brother walked free, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Tuesday he did not know of any negotiations with Indonesia that led to her release.
The decision to drop charges against Indonesian suspect Siti Aisyah was done “within the law,” said the leader of Malaysia’s new government.
In Indonesia, meanwhile, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo welcomed Siti and her parents to the presidential palace in Jakarta, and praised diplomatic efforts to secure her release.
Also on Tuesday, Vietnam’s foreign minister called on Malaysia to drop charges as well against Doan Thi Huong, a Vietnamese defendant who remained in custody in connection with the February 2017 assassination of Kim Jong Nam at a Kuala Lumpur airport. Elsewhere, Doan’s father said he was lobbying the Vietnamese government to push for his daughter’s freedom.
Asked Tuesday if negotiations with Indonesia had helped secure Aisyah’s release, Mahathir told reporters, “I do not have such information.”
“I do not know the details. … But from what I understand, the prosecution can withdraw the charge,” the prime minister said. “There is a process within the law that one can withdraw the charges and that’s what was done.”
On Monday, as Doan began her defense phase of the trial after a pause of several months, prosecutors announced they were not pressing ahead with charges against her Indonesian co-defendant, who left the courtroom and then flew to Jakarta.
The two women were charged with assassinating Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-sibling of North Korean dictator King Jong Un, in a chemical attack using a nerve agent, VX.
Malaysian Attorney General Tommy Thomas on Monday made public a letter where he had informed a senior Indonesian official of the upcoming acquittal and release of Aisyah, saying his decision in the matter had taken “into account the good relations between our respective countries.”
The Indonesian embassy in Kuala Lumpur had described Aisyah’s release as the culmination of a diplomatic effort directed by Widodo, who is aiming to win a second term in office in elections scheduled for April 17.
As he thanked Malaysia for releasing Aisyah, Rusdi Kirana, Indonesia’s ambassador to Kuala Lumpur, told reporters that President Jokowi had spoken to Mahathir about discharging her from Malaysian custody during their meeting last year at Bogor Palace in Indonesia.
In addition, Indonesian Justice Minister Yasonna Laoly, who welcomed Aisyah at an airport in Jakarta on Monday, discussed efforts to win her freedom.
“At the behest of the president, the chief of the national police, the attorney general and other officials worked together to find ways to free her and communicated well with the previous government of Prime Minister Najib Razak as well as the government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad,” he said.
On Tuesday, Jokowi spoke to reporters after meeting with Aisyah and her family.
“This is how the government pays attention to its citizens, and yesterday the government, represented by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, officially handed Siti Aisyah back to her family. I welcome her, and congratulate her return to her family,” he said.
Efforts to free Doan
In Vietnam, Doan Van Thanh said he hoped Hanoi would press Kuala Lumpur to release his daughter.
“For the time being, I expect Huong to be released and go home, but I don’t know what Malaysia will do,” he told the Vietnamese service of Radio Free Asia (RFA), a sister entity of BenarNews. “I do expect the Vietnamese government to help with proving Huong innocent and getting her released.”
Meanwhile, a government official announced that he had reached out to his Malaysian counterpart in an effort to free Doan.
Vietnamese Foreign Affairs Minister Pham Binh Minh said that he had spoken with Malaysian Foreign Affairs Minister Saifuddin Abdullah.
Back in Malaysia, Doan is scheduled to return to court later this week.
Azmi Ariffin, the judge at the Shah Alam High Court who granted Aisyah a discharge not amounting to acquittal – meaning she could be charged again later if there was new evidence in the case – said he was “reluctant” to grant the petition on Doan’s behalf.
He said the trial would resume at 10 a.m. Thursday (local time) if the Attorney General’s Chamber rejected her defense team’s application.
Radzi Razak in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.