An Indonesian woman accused of assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother arrived back in Jakarta on Monday after a Malaysian court suddenly dropped the murder charges and released her.
A smiling Siti Aisyah, 26, who had been facing the possibility of a death penalty sentence in Malaysia in the morning, by the evening was welcomed by Indonesian officials and rushed through Jakarta’s main airport to her emotional parents, who wept and hugged their youngest daughter on sight.
Ms Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong, 30, from Vietnam, had been charged with killing Kim Jong Nam, the estranged relative of the North Korean leader, at Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017.
The pair were accused of smearing lethal VX nerve agent on his face, but both claimed that they were duped into believing they were taking part in a reality TV prank show and knew nothing of the audacious plot to kill him.
Four North Koreans, believed to be the masterminds of the conspiracy, fled Malaysia after the murder and remain at large.
The young woman, who had first arrived in Kuala Lumpur as an impoverished migrant worker, told reporters that she was “overwhelmed” at the news.
"I am surprised and very happy,” she said. “I didn’t expect that today will be the day of my freedom.” She later thanked Joko Widodo, the Indonesian president, his government and her lawyers for securing her release.
It has since emerged that Indonesia lobbied the Malaysian authorities intensively on her behalf at the highest levels. The foreign ministry said in a statement that Siti Aisyah was “deceived and did not realise at all that she was being manipulated by North Korean intelligence.”
Their efforts finally paid off. Tommy Thomas, the Malaysian attorney general, announced his decision to free Ms Aisyah in a letter to Indonesia’s minister of law and human rights, revealing that the judgement was made “taking into account the good relations” between the two countries.
In her home district of Serang, Ms Aisyah’s relatives, who had been praying for her freedom, were thrilled.
Her aunt, Darsinah, the sister of her mother, Binah, told the Telegraph that the local community was preparing a religious festival to give thanks for her homecoming.
Binah had “cried every day and night” for her daughter, until the good news was broken to the family on Sunday, she revealed.
Ms Aisyah was a “simple” and “naïve” girl who had only tried to improve her family’s income by moving to Malaysia, she said. She spoke to her family but never allowed her mother to see her during the trial, fearing that she would collapse.
“I don’t really understand why the court didn’t believe that Aisyah was only a simple villager who doesn’t understand the game that is played by, whoever they were,” she said.
“My sister and I are only villagers from a remote place who don’t understand law. But we are honest and we know who Aisyah is. So those people have to believe us: Aisyah would not kill anyone, not even a cat.”
Kim Jong-nam, half-brother of Kim Jong-un, in pictures
Ms Aisyah’s release raises difficult questions about the fate of the remaining defendant, Doan Thi Huong, also from a modest background in rural Vietnam.
Ms Doan was due to testify on Monday after months of delay but the trial was adjourned after her lawyer said she had been “traumatised” to learn that she now faced the charges alone.
The two women hugged in the dock as Ms Aisyah left, but a distraught Ms Doan later told reporters that “I am in shock. My mind is blank.”
Mr Hisyam added: “Doan was obviously disappointed as there was no equal treatment given to her, no fairness displayed to her, and she is in no position to testify.”
He said her legal team had been “upset about the decision” to release one woman and not the other, adding that they would apply to the Attorney General for a “full acquittal.”
“We hope that the AG will seriously consider our representation and come up with the right decision and that is the same decision as Siti Aisyah – withdraw the charge against her,” he said.
The trial will resume on Thursday. Mr Hisyam told the Telegraph last week that he was “very confident” his client would win as she had “no knowledge” of the elaborate conspiracy.
Kim lived in exile in Macau and it is widely believed he was targetted as a perceived threat to the isolated regime. South Korea has accused the North of ordering the hit, which Pyongyang denies.
Additional reporting by Selva Mariappen.
Sign up for your essential, twice-daily briefing from The Telegraph with our free Front Page newsletter.