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Reuters/Lai Seng Sin
Scapegoats?
ON TRIAL

Two migrant women must now convincingly testify they were pawns in Kim Jong Nam’s killing

Tripti Lahiri
By Tripti Lahiri

Asia bureau chief

A judge in Malaysia found today (Aug. 16) that there’s enough evidence to continue with the trial of two young Southeast Asian migrant workers on charges of murdering Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, last year in Kuala Lumpur’s airport. If convicted, they’ll face the death penalty.

The ruling, which came after the prosecution began presenting its case last October, means the trial now moves into its defense phase. Ahead of the ruling, the families of the women had hoped the judge might acquit the women, who maintain they were duped into taking part in the audacious assassination.

Siti Aisyah, from Indonesia, and Doan Thi Huong, from Vietnam, both in their 20s, were arrested just days after security camera footage recorded them going up to Kim in the airport and touching his face on Feb. 13, 2017. Kim, who had been living in exile in Macau since falling out of favor with his family, was immediately taken ill and died before he could get medical help. The investigation later showed that Kim was exposed to nerve agent VX, a banned chemical weapon.

Huong (shown above), the daughter of a rice farmer, left home at the age of 18 and was working in the entertainment industry, according to Malaysian police. Aisyah, meanwhile, had previously worked in tailoring in Jakarta, where she had a young son, whom she had visited just two weeks before the crime, Reuters reported last year.

Lawyers for the women say their clients thought they were pranking Kim for a reality show. But Malaysian prosecutors argued the women had to be trained to carry out the crime successfully, and that they were part of a conspiracy with a group of North Koreans. The judge said aspects of the women’s behavior—such as running away to wash hands after the incident—left him unconvinced this was a prank.

No North Koreans are on trial.

Soon after the killing, Malaysian police arrested a North Korean, Ri Jong Chol, and named at least six other North Korean men as suspects or people sought in connection with the investigation. The names included an official at the North Korea embassy in Malaysia. But later, Malaysia released the body of Kim to North Korea, and also let several North Koreans return home.

Lawyers for the two women say their clients have been left to take the fall.

“I really believe that these two naïve girls have actually been used by [North Korea], to carry out acts on their behalf, unknown to them that they were using poison,” a lawyer for one of the women told Quartz last year.

The trial will resume in November, and Aisyah is expected to testify first.

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