Malaysia: Trial Starts for Two Women Accused of Assassinating Kim Jong Nam
Lawyers for two Southeast Asian women accused of assassinating the half-brother of North Korea’s dictator in Malaysia in February demanded that the names of four North Korean suspects be entered into the court’s record as their clients’ murder trial opened on Monday.
But the judge rejected the defense’s request to compel the prosecution to reveal the names of the four North Koreans on day one of the trial, which featured witnesses giving chilling accounts of the final moments in the life of Kim Jong Nam. He died after being attacked with a banned nerve agent at a Kuala Lumpur area airport on Feb. 13.
The defendants, Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 28, both pleaded not guilty to Kim’s murder as their trial began at the Shah Alam court complex in Selangor state. The women arrived at the courthouse wearing bullet-proof vests and could face the death penalty, if convicted.
Their attorneys argued in court they could not build a solid defense if the prosecution did not enter the names of the four North Koreans who left the country on the day of the assassination, and who were identified by Malaysian police as persons wanted in connection with the killing. In February, Malaysian investigators said they were looking for the four North Korean men, who, they said, had been filmed by a security camera at the same airport on Feb. 13. Police had identified them by name at the time.
“The prosecution has a moral duty to disclose the names. The charge stated that my client has common intention with four others. The defense needs the names for the purpose of our defense,” Doan’s lawyer, Hisyam Teh Poh Teik Hisyam, told the court.
Judge Azmi Ariffin dismissed the request, saying the omission of the names of the four North Koreans would not affect the case against the two women.
“There must be fairness, but we respect the judge’s decision this morning,” Hisyam later told reporters.
Before their trial opened, the two women claimed they had been duped by some men into thinking they were playing a prank on Kim Jong Nam that was being filmed as part of a reality TV show. The women claimed they did not know they were smearing the deadly VX nerve agent on his face when they accosted him at the airport.
However, in his opening statement, chief prosecutor Muhamad Iskandar Ahmad said he aimed to prove that both defendants were involved in a prank along with four others that resulted in the death of Kim Jong Nam.
“The act of both women involved in a prank exercise supervised by four people who are still at large shows a common intention and motive between the women and the four individuals in killing the deceased,” the prosecutor told the court.
The North Korean government has denied any role in the killing of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of Pyongyang dictator Kim Jong Un. Pyongyang officials also refused to identify the body of the assassinated man as that of Kim Jong Nam, who was carrying a passport bearing the name of Kim Chol when he was fatally attacked.
‘His hands were trembling’
The trial’s first day featured testimony from four witnesses called by the prosecution.
Witness Juliana Idris, who was on duty as a customer care representative at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2, said a man with a North Korean passport that identified him as Kim Chol, 45, approached her on the day of the attack.
“His hands were trembling, I was wondering why. He told me that he wanted to lodge a police report. I was with him for about 10 to 20 minutes,” she testified.
She said Kim spoke to her in English at the information counter and asked to be taken to a police station. The man told her that two women had approached him from behind and smeared a substance on his face, Juliana testified.
Witness Rabiatul Adawiyah Mohd Sofi, a medical assistant at the Menara Medical Clinic at the airport, said that, at around 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 13, police brought in a man suffering from seizure-like symptoms.
“There were two policemen taking a man to the clinic who claimed that someone sprayed liquid on his face. Then I took his passport for registration,” she testified.
“It looked like liquid. His eyes were red,” Rabiatul said.
Police Lance Cpl. Mohd Zulkarnain Sanudin testified that the victim told him his eyes were blurry and he could not see.
Physician Nik Mohd Adzrul Ariff Raja Azlan, who tended to the victim and was the last witness to testify on Monday, said Kim was sweating profusely.
“When I met him, his hands were clutching his head. He was closing his eyes tightly and his face was also very red,” the physician testified.
Kim’s pulse, Nik said, was rapid and showing symptoms of seizure. “His jaw and teeth were clenched and his eyes were rolling up.”
Kim soon fell unconscious and his pulse stopped beating, Nik testified.
The trial adjourned shortly after 4 p.m. and was scheduled to resume on Tuesday.
The prosecution phase of the trial is scheduled for 23 days in October and November. Once finished, the judge will determine if the prosecution has built its case and if so, allow the defense to proceed.