Village cheers return of Indonesia woman in North Korea case
RANCASUMUR, Indonesia (AP) — A chaotic crush of jubilant villagers and reporters greeted the young Indonesian woman who was freed after Malaysia dropped charges that she killed the estranged half brother of North Korea’s leader in an airport two years ago.
Mosque loudspeakers blared as police guarding Siti Aisyah pushed their way through a mob to the house of a local parliamentarian in the Javanese village where she grew up. Officials said Aisyah was exhausted and had fainted.
Earlier Tuesday, she met Indonesian President Joko Widodo, just a day after being whisked out of Malaysia, reuniting with her parents and facing the onslaught of two news conferences.
“She was very exhausted and fainted shortly after arriving at this house. So let her rest now until her health is restored,” said Indra Mutai, a member of the local legislature.
In Aisyah’s village, Rancasumur, residents said they had cried with joy when they heard Monday that she had been freed. Excited children ran around the neighborhood shouting, “Kim Jong Nam” — the name of the slain North Korean — and villagers held prayers to thank God for Aisyah’s freedom.
“We were sure sooner or later she would be freed because she is innocent,” said her aunt, Siti Sudarmi.
Authorities in Malaysia, where Aisyah had been detained for two years and faced a possible death penalty, released her 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 the 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 TV show.
From the beginning, Indonesian officials asserted that Aisyah was the naive and unwitting pawn of North Korean agents.
Aisyah’s defense team said after she was recruited, pranks were practiced at malls, hotels and airports and Aisyah was paid about $100 to $200 per prank.
It’s unclear if Malaysia also will drop charges against Huong. Not long after the Feb. 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.
Neighbors said 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 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.
Rancasumur is by Indonesian standards a prosperous community of large houses where families make a livelihood from trading and farming or working in the factories in the surrounding area.
Sri Rahayu, who lives next to Aisyah’s family home, said she was ecstatic and moved to tears when she heard Aisyah, her cousin, was freed.
“Everybody cried,” the 19-year-old said. “I hope this can free her from the ridicule of people who don’t know what really happened.”
Rahayu, a factory garment worker, said the first thing she would say when she sees Aisyah is to ask her not to work overseas again.
“I really want to advise her to not go back working abroad,” Rahayu said. “It’s better for her to stay at home and get a job here.”