HANOI: Vietnam today asked Malaysia to free the Vietnamese woman charged with assassinating the North Korean leader’s half-brother in Kuala Lumpur, a day after her Indonesian co-accused was suddenly released, AFP reported.
Vietnamese citizen Doan Thi Huong, 30, is on trial for murder in Malaysia for the brazen Cold War-style killing of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of Kim Jong Un, at a busy Kuala Lumpur airport in 2017.
Huong was accused alongside Indonesian Siti Aisyah, who was suddenly freed yesterday by a Malaysian court where the women were being tried.
Vietnam’s Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh called his Malaysian counterpart today asking Huong to be released as well, according to state media.
“He asked Malaysia to ensure a fair trial and to set free Doan Thi Huong,” Voice of Vietnam radio reported today after Minh’s call to Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah.
Huong is set to appear in court on Thursday after her lawyers asked the attorney-general to withdraw her murder charge. Prosecutors may decide then to inform the court whether the application had been successful.
The call from Vietnam’s foreign minister was an unprecedented public request from Hanoi, which generally does not get involved in criminal cases involving its citizens overseas.
Vietnam provided legal counsel to Huong, but has refrained from publicly lobbying for her release until today.
Siti’s sudden release prompted questions about interference in Malaysia’s justice system, particularly after the Indonesian government revealed that it had lobbied Kuala Lumpur on the case.
Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said today the decision was in line with “the rule of law”.
Huong and Siti have consistently denied the murder charge and have said they were tricked into carrying out the killing using a toxic nerve agent for what they thought was a prank for a TV programme.
The women’s lawyers say the real killers are four North Koreans — formally accused of the crime alongside the women — who fled Malaysia shortly after the assassination.
South Korea accuses the North of plotting the murder of Jong Nam, an estranged relative of Kim Jong Un who was once seen as heir apparent to the North Korean leadership. Pyongyang denies the accusation.
Meanwhile, lawyers for Huong have confirmed writing to the attorney-general (AG) to drop the charge against her.
One of them, Salim Bashir, said a letter of representation was sent to AG Tommy Thomas yesterday afternoon for his consideration.
“This is the third letter but the first to Thomas to withdraw the charge against Huong on the principle of fairness,” Salim told FMT.
Huong’s lawyers had written twice to former AG Mohamed Apandi Ali to stop the prosecution but were unsuccessful.
Salim said trial judge Azmi Arifin had ordered Huong to make her defence on Thursday if there was no response from the AG.
“We have lined up four to five defence witnesses should there be no favourable reply from the AG,” he said.
Salim said the AG, who doubled up as public prosecutor, had every right to drop the charge against Siti Aisyah.
“That is his prerogative under the law but he should have given his reason to abandon the charge when defence was called,” he said.
Salim said Huong should also be accorded the same treatment although both were charged separately, but a joint trial was held.
Siti had been working as a masseuse in Kuala Lumpur, while Huong described herself as an entertainer.