Release bid fails for Vietnamese woman in Kim Jong Nam murder

Doan Thi Huong is the last person facing charges for the 2017 killing of the North Korean leader's half-brother.

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    Doan Thi Huong leaves the Shah Alam High Court on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur on Thursday [Lai Seng Sin/Reuters]
    Doan Thi Huong leaves the Shah Alam High Court on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur on Thursday [Lai Seng Sin/Reuters]

    Shah Alam, Malaysia - The attorney general is pushing ahead with the trial of a Vietnamese woman, Doan Thi Huong, in the murder of Kim Jong Nam despite the unexpected decision this week to free her co-accused.

    The prosecution told the Shah Alam court on Thursday that the attorney general had considered "all reasons" but 30-year-old Doan's trial for killing the half-brother of North Korea's leader would proceed. The prosecutor did not elaborate.

    Indonesian Siti Aisyah was freed on Monday after the prosecution suddenly withdrew the charge against her. She is now back in Indonesia.

    Doan's lawyers said they were deeply disappointed with the decision and the attorney general had a "moral obligation" to explain the reasoning, given the international nature of the case. They added that they would make a second representation to the attorney general.

    "Doan is a scapegoat," said lead defence lawyer Hisyam Teoh Poh Teik. "Her case is the same as Siti Aisyah's. There are no differences, similar evidence and the same defence. If Siti Aisyah can be released then why not Doan?"

    Nationwide manhunt

    Doan and Siti, 27, were charged with the murder of Kim Jong Nam in the concourse area of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport by smearing his face with a toxic nerve agent. The court had ruled last August that there was sufficient evidence for the case to proceed.

    The murder of Kim Jong Nam triggered a nationwide manhunt and diplomatic crisis. Four men from North Korea who were suspected of being behind the attack fled Malaysia the day Kim was killed, leaving Doan and Siti Aisyah the only two people in custody in relation to the crime.

    Hisyam earlier told the court the attorney general's decision not to drop the case against Doan was "perverse", adding it "did not speak well of Malaysia's criminal justice system".

    'She's not there'

    Doan arrived in court looking worried. Her lawyers said while she was happy that Siti Aisyah had been released, she was now feeling depressed and had slept for no more than an hour over the past three nights.

    Given her mental and physical condition, the judge accepted her lawyer's assertion that Doan was in no condition to take the stand and give evidence in her own defence, agreeing to postpone the case until April 1.

    "The way I see it she's not there physically or mentally," the judge said, having met her in chambers prior to the start of the hearing. "I think she must be given the opportunity to be treated by a doctor."

    Vietnam's Ambassador Le Quy Quynh attended the hearing and said the government was doing all it could to secure Doan's release.

    "Vietnam will request Malaysia to give fair treatment to Huong and release her as soon as possible," he told reporters as he left the court.

    Doan bowed her head as she was escorted back to prison by armed police.

    Tricked

    Hisyam has argued that Kim's killing was politically motivated and his client's behaviour after his death showed she did not realise what she was doing.

    Both women maintain they were tricked into carrying out the attack, which they thought was part of a TV reality show.

    Officials in South Korea and the United States say North Korea was behind the assassination. North Korea denies the claim.

    Doan's lawyers said CCTV video showing Doan walking up behind Kim and putting her hands over his face should have no bearing on the attorney general's decision because both women were mounting the same defence and it had already been decided to free Siti Aisyah.

    "We hope the attorney general review the evidence and review the decision," said defence lawyer Naran Singh. "More so in this case because two people were charged, but it was withdrawn against one but not against the other."

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    North Korea: The Death of Kim Jong-nam

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News