Two women – Indonesian citizen Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese citizen Doan Thi Huong – stand accused of killing the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at a Kuala Lumpur airport on February 13 last year.

Indonesian Siti Aisyah, who is on trial for the killing of Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea's leader, is escorted as she arrives at the Shah Alam High Court on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on August 16, 2018.
Indonesian Siti Aisyah, who is on trial for the killing of Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea's leader, is escorted as she arrives at the Shah Alam High Court on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on August 16, 2018. (Reuters)

A Malaysian judge on Thursday ruled that a trial against two women charged with the murder of the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un would continue, and asked them to enter their defence.

Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong, a Vietnamese, face the death penalty on charges of murdering Kim Jong-nam by smearing his face with VX, a nerve agent banned by the United Nations, at a Kuala Lumpur airport on February 13 last year.

Judge Azmi Ariffin accepted the prosecution's case that the women, in common intention with four individuals still at large, had caused the death of Kim Jong-nam.

"I must therefore call upon them to enter their defence on their respective charges," he added. 

Women plead not guilty

The women, both in their 20s, are the only suspects in custody and have pleaded not guilty, saying they thought they were involved in a prank for a reality TV show. Four North Koreans also charged in the killing have fled Malaysia.

The prosecution made closing arguments in June at a court on the outskirts of the Malaysian capital, based on testimony from 34 witnesses. 

Expert witnesses testified that traces of VX were found on the clothing of both women. Video recordings played in court showed them meeting the four fugitives at the airport before the attack. They also show Huong appearing to smear something on Kim Jong-nam's face.

If the judge decides the evidence is insufficient, the case will be dismissed and both women acquitted and deported.

Journalist Zan Azlee joined TRT World from Kuala Lumpur to discuss the trial.

Defence lawyers say the killing was politically motivated, with many key suspects linked to the North Korean embassy in the Malaysian capital, suggesting the women were simply pawns.

Siti Aisyah's lawyer Gooi Soon Seng has called the evidence against his client "flimsy and circumstantial" as it relied only on the security footage and the traces of VX on her.

There was no clear footage of Siti Aisyah smearing Kim's face. The recordings show only a blurry image of someone the prosecution identified as Siti Aisyah hurrying from the scene.

Huong's lawyer, Hisyam Teh, said his client's conduct after the incident was that of an innocent person, citing CCTV recordings showing her return to the crime scene two days later, when she was arrested.

"We are very confident that tomorrow justice will be served," Hisyam told Reuters, adding that Huong had been consistent and co-operative in her police statements.

"The judge cannot ignore the evidence before him."

In Vietnam, Huong's father, Doan Van Thanh, said he hoped the court would be fair.

"She's an innocent girl and we believe the court will find the same," he told Reuters by telephone from his home in the northern province of Nam Dinh.

"She was tricked, and we all know that."

Pyongyang has denied accusations by South Korean and US officials that Kim Jong-un’s regime was behind the killing.

Source: Reuters