Vietnam urges Malaysia to free second woman in N Korean killing

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Vietnam has urged Malaysia to release the second woman accused of killing the estranged half-brother of North Korea’s leader.

Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh made the plea in a phone call on Tuesday with his counterpart, Saifuddin Abdullah, according to a statement on the ministry website. It said Minh requested the Malaysian court conduct a fair trial and free Doan Thi Huong.

Malaysia on Monday dropped the murder charge against her co-defendant, Indonesian Siti Aisyah, who has returned to her home village.

Huong’s murder trial is to resume today, and prosecutors are expected to reply to a request by Huong’s lawyers for the government to withdraw the murder charge against her as well.

The two women were accused along with four missing North Koreans of killing Kim Jong-nam by VX nerve agent at a Malaysian airport in 2017. Both women say they were thought they were playing a prank for a TV show.

This April 5, 2018 file photo shows Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong escorted by police as she leaves after a court hearing at the Shah Alam High Court. – AP

Prosecutors did not give any reason for the remarkable retreat in their case against Aisyah, whose home government had lobbied hard for her release.

Vietnam has pushed less hard on behalf of Huong, and recently hosted North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for an official visit and a summit with President Donald Trump.

Indonesia’s government said its continued high-level lobbying had resulted in Aisyah’s release and alleged the young migrant worker had no idea she was being “manipulated by North Korean intelligence”.

Huong’s lawyer, Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, said after Monday’s court session that Huong felt Aisyah’s discharge was unfair to her because the judge last year had found sufficient evidence to continue the murder trial against both of them.

“She is entitled to the same kind of consideration as Aisyah,” he said.

Lawyers for the women have previously said that they were pawns in a political assassination with clear links to the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, and that the prosecution failed to show the women had any intention to kill. Intent to kill is crucial to a murder charge under Malaysian law.

Malaysian officials have never officially accused North Korea and have made it clear they don’t want the trial politicised.

Kim was the eldest son in the current generation of North Korea’s ruling family. He had been living abroad for years but could have been seen as a threat to Kim Jong-un’s rule.