Malaysia rejects Vietnam's request to free woman in murder trial

Nellie Chapman
March 15, 2019

A Vietnamese woman will continue her trial for the murder of Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korea's leader, after Malaysian prosecutors rejected a request from Vietnam to free her on Thursday.

Vietnam had been pushing for her release, and the decision comes days after her Indonesian co-defendant, Siti Aisyah, was unexpectedly freed.

Proceedings were scheduled to resume on Monday with Ms Huong testifying - but the unexpected release of her co-accused led to the trial being adjourned so the Vietnamese suspect could also seek her freedom.

Teh said, "It does not speak well of our criminal justice system".

"We will request Malaysia to have fair judgment and release her as soon as possible", he said.

Huong's lead counsel Hisyam Teh Poh Teik said his team was "obviously disappointed with the position of the A-G" for not withdrawing the charge against his client. He said prosecutors were being unfair to Huong as her case was similar to Aisyah. "It's very obvious, my lord, that there is discrimination", he said. Teh said Huong was unwell and needed medical treatment.

The two women were the only people in custody after four North Korean suspects fled the country the morning of February 13, 2017, when Kim Jong Nam was poisoned with VX nerve agent. Both women were charged separately but the charge against them is the same: That they had colluded with the four North Korean suspects to murder Kim.

A High Court judge last August had found there was enough evidence to infer that Aisyah, Huong and the four missing North Koreans engaged in a "well-planned conspiracy" to kill Kim Jong Nam.

Prosecutors say Malaysia's attorney general has ordered the murder case to proceed against a Vietnamese woman accused in the killing of the North Korean leader's half brother.

The duo had been charged over the murder.

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Responding to news about the AG's rejection of the application from Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong's lawyers for a withdrawal, the DAP national legal bureau chairman said it raised questions about the AG's absolute power to decide prosecutions in the country.

Speaking through tears, Ms Huong told reporters in court: "I am depressed". The defense part of the trial was to have started Monday.

Huong was sobbing as she spoke to Vietnamese Embassy officials after Thursday's court hearing ended.

"I had hoped for good news today, but...there is none..."

In Huong's home village her father Doan Van Thanh, who had washed bed sheets in anticipation of her homecoming, was left heartbroken: 'I am very sad.

Hương said she was innocent and wished to continue receiving support from relevant agencies.

In Vietnam, Huong's stepmother, Nguyen Thi Vy, said the decision saddened her. "It's so unfair. The two of them were in this and now one got out, one can not".

She could face death by hanging if found guilty of the assassination. He urged the attorney-general to be transparent and explain why he dropped the case against Aisyah but not Huong.

The murder of Kim Jong Nam triggered a nationwide manhunt and a diplomatic crisis.

The trial featured airport video recordings of two women allegedly assaulting Kim Jong Nam while he prepared to check in for a flight. There was security camera video of Huong with Kim.

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