Malaysia's prime minister said Tuesday the surprise release of an Indonesian woman who was on trial for assassinating the North Korean leader's half-brother followed the "rule of law", after suspicions of meddling amid an intense lobbying effort by Jakarta.
Siti Aisyah was freed by a Malaysian court Monday after prosecutors withdrew a murder charge without any explanation, more than two years after her arrest for the 2017 killing of Kim Jong Nam at a Kuala Lumpur airport.
Her sudden release prompted questions about interference in Malaysia's justice system, particularly after the Indonesian government revealed that it had lobbied Kuala Lumpur on the case, including pressure from President Joko Widodo.
But Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told reporters in parliament that the decision was in line with "the rule of law".
"There is a law that allows charges to be withdrawn. That was what happened. I do not know in detail the reasons," he said, adding he was unaware of any negotiations between Indonesia and Malaysia on the issue.
On Monday, Indonesian officials released a letter from the country's justice minister to Malaysia's attorney-general, which said Aisyah had been "deceived" and sought her release. The attorney-general agreed to the request last week.
"It was a political decision not to proceed. There was clear evidence and she (Aisyah) confessed," James Chin, a Malaysia specialist at the University of Tasmania, said in a message.
"I am sure they decided that it was an easy thing to release her and score a few points with Indonesia. They can always use the excuse (which they did) she was an innocent player manipulated by North Korea."
'Very long process'
Aisyah's swift release had sparked anger in Malaysia, and accusations that the government had caved in to diplomatic pressure.
The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), an opposition party, said withdrawing the murder charge against Aisyah was "a fiasco".
"The independence of the Attorney General Chambers (AG) and its prosecutors once again comes under disrepute," deputy MCA president Mah Hang Soon said in a statement.
"Why is the AG succumbing to foreign interference into our prosecution?"
Meanwhile, Indonesia's Widodo met with the 27-year-old woman at Jakarta's presidential palace following her return.
"Thank God. We should be grateful that Siti Aisyah was freed...and could be reunited with her family," Widodo told reporters after the two met behind closed doors.
"This has been a very long process...It's the result of the government's concern for its citizens," he added.
She had been on trial alongside a Vietnamese woman, Doan Thi Huong, who was left distraught as she was not freed at the same time.
The pair always denied murder, insisting they were tricked by North Korean spies into carrying out the Cold War-style hit using a toxic nerve agent and thought it was just a prank.
Vietnam's foreign minister Pham Binh Minh spoke to his Malaysian counterpart on Tuesday to request Huong be released as well, according to state radio broadcaster Voice of Vietnam.
Huong's lawyers have also asked the attorney-general to withdraw her murder charge, and prosecutors may on Thursday inform the Shah Alam High Court, outside Kuala Lumpur, whether the application has been successful.
The women's lawyers have presented them as scapegoats. They say the real murderers are four North Koreans – formally accused of the crime alongside the women – who fled Malaysia shortly after the assassination.
South Korea accuses the North of plotting the murder of Kim, an estranged relative of Kim Jong-un who was once seen as heir apparent to the North Korean leadership. Pyongyang denies the accusation. - AFP