Women freed of Jong Nam murder may end up in Pyongyang’s frying pan, experts warn

Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong and Indonesian Siti Aisyah will be better off maintaining a low profile to avoid attention from Pyongyang’s agents, say Korea experts. (Reuters pic)

PETALING JAYA: Fears have been expressed over the safety of the two women freed of a charge of murdering Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un, with experts warning that Pyongyang could now target the women for saying its agents were the culprit in the murder.

They say Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong and Indonesian Siti Aisyah, who claimed they were tricked by North Korean agents into attacking Jong Nam at the klia2 airport in Sepang in 2017, are considered accessories to the assassination.

Korean expert Sung-Yoon Lee from Tufts University in the US said Pyongyang would do all it can to stop the women from going public with their stories.

“What Pyongyang fears is that after the passage of a few years, either or both of the two women [could] have a change of heart due to contrition or a financial offer from a publisher… and tell the true story, make a movie, go on TV and talk about their interactions [with] their North Korean ‘employers’,” he told the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

Siti Aisyah was released on March 11 after the court dropped the murder charge against her following a request from the Indonesian government. Doan is expected to walk free next month after she accepted a lesser charge.

The women were arrested days after they smeared nerve agent on Jong Nam’s face as he stood at the check-in counter at klia2 on Feb 13, 2017. He died 20 minutes later at the airport clinic.

They later told the court that they were tricked into believing that they were part of a TV prank show.

Lee said the women should avoid the limelight to stay safe despite temptations to talk to the media.

He said the Jong Nam case would further embolden the “weird but belligerent” North Korean regime, adding that Jong Nam’s other family members could also be targeted.

A South Korean academic said one target could be Jong Nam’s son, 23-year-old Kim Han Sol.

“It is natural for Pyongyang to try to kill Jong Nam’s son in the near future,” Nam Sung-wook from Korea University,  a former South Korean intelligence agent, told SCMP.

Jong Nam’s killing sparked a diplomatic crisis between Malaysia and North Korea.

Both countries banned each other’s citizens from leaving and withdrew their ambassadors before a deal was struck which saw Malaysia agreeing to return Jong Nam’s body to Pyongyang.