Indonesian woman’s village celebrates her newfound freedom

RANCASUMUR, Indonesia (AP) – Relatives and neighbours of the Indonesian woman accused of killing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s estranged half brother in Malaysia are preparing an emotional welcome home party after charges against her were unexpectedly dropped.

In Rancasumur, the Javanese village where Siti Aisyah grew up, residents said they cried with joy when they heard she had been freed.

Yesterday, her aunt Siti Sudarmi was preparing Aisyah’s favourite spicy beef dish as crowds of reporters waited outside the family home and excited children ran around the neighbourhood shouting ‘Kim Jong Nam’ – the name of the slain North Korean.

The night before, the tight-knit village held prayers to thank Allah the Almighty for Aisyah’s freedom.

“We were sure sooner or later she would be freed because she is innocent,” said Sudarmi.

Indonesian Siti Aisyah holds her parents Asria and Benah, after a press conference at the Foreign Minister’s office in Jakarta, Indonesia on March 11. – AP

Authorities in Malaysia, where Aisyah had been detained for two years and faced a possible death penalty, released her on Monday following concerted lobbying by the Indonesian government.

It was a stunning twist in a bizarre fact-is-stranger-than-fiction tale. Prosecutors alleged Aisyah and a Vietnamese woman, Doan Thi Huong, were trained killers who smeared VX nerve agent on Kim Jong Nam’s face at a bustling Malaysian airport in 2017, causing his death.

The two women, both in their 20s and from humble backgrounds, said they thought they were carrying out a prank for a reality TV show.

From the beginning, Indonesian officials have asserted that Aisyah was the naive and unwitting pawn of North Korean agents.

Aisyah’s defence team said after she was recruited, pranks were practiced at malls, hotels and airports and Aisyah was paid about USD100-USD200 per prank.

It’s unclear if Malaysia will also drop charges against Huong. Not long after the February 13, 2017, killing, Malaysia allowed North Korean suspects to leave the country in a deal that secured the safety of Malaysian citizens in North Korea.

Neighbours said that Aisyah was a victim of deception that many young village women are vulnerable to when they move to bigger cities in Indonesia or abroad. Malaysia, which is approaching developed-nation income levels, is a magnet for millions of Indonesians, who typically find work there as maids and construction and plantation workers.

Aisyah first lived in Malaysia in 2011, moving there with her husband at the time, according to a February 2017 Associated Press interview with her father-in-law, Tjia Liong Kiong, who looked after the couple’s young son. She returned about a year later to divorce her husband. After that, she lived with her parents and also worked in Batam, an Indonesian island near Singapore, and visited a boyfriend in Malaysia.