Two women on trial for assassinating Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korea’s leader, have asserted that they were tricked into the murder. Now the defense claims that one of the women was paid to act in what she thought was a prank show just weeks before the murder.
Background on Kim Jong-nam
Until approximately 2001, Kim Jong-nam was going to be the man to rule North Korea when his father Kim Jong-il passed on. Unfortunately for Jong-nam, he made a few mistakes that pushed him out of favor.
He reportedly argued for reforms within North Korea. He was also caught trying to sneak into China with his family using a false passport so they could go to Tokyo Disneyland. For Jong-il, that was the final straw.
Once Jong-nam fell out of favor, his younger half-brother Kim Jong-un claimed his spot. In 2003, Jong-nam was exiled from North Korea.
In 2010, Jong-un was named the heir to his father. In 2011, with the passing of Jong-il, Jong-un took over. He soon started to take out any potential rivals for his leadership.
The Assassination of a Rival
By 2017, Kim Jong-nam was a sore spot for the leadership of North Korea. He was a drinker and a gambler. He had tattoos, which are taboo in Korean culture because they are associated with criminal gangs. But worst of all, he continued to criticize North Korea’s government and his half-brother.
According to some sources, Jong-un had issued a standing order that his half-brother was to be killed. Jong-un had already removed other rivals like his uncle, Jang Song-thaek. Depending on which version of the story you believe, Song-thaek was either shot to death by anti-aircraft guns or fed to 120 dogs.
On February 13, 2017, while at an airport in Malaysia, Jong-nam was approached by two younger women. One squirted a liquid in his face. The other one covered his face with a cloth that was laced with what would later be revealed as a nerve agent.
Jong-nam collapsed at the airport and died en route to a hospital.
The suspected assassins, Siti Aisyah of Indonesia and Doan Thi Huong of Vietnam, were caught soon afterwards. Aisyah’s Malaysian boyfriend, Muhammad Farid bin Jalaluddin, and a North Korean man named Ri Jong-chol were also arrested.
Pranksters or Assassins?
Both Aisyah and Huong are currently on trial for their alleged roles in the assassination. They claim they had no idea that they were murdering a man. Instead, they thought they were playing a prank for a TV show.
According to Aisyah’s lawyers, she had been recruited by North Korean Ri Ji-u (who was posing as a Japanese man named “James”) to participate in pranks in the weeks leading up to the assassination. She was paid $1,000 for her participation.
When James told her about the airport “prank” on Jong-nam, she figured it was more of the same. The defense provided texts and Facebook messages to corroborate the story.
The prosecution, however, claims that this is a lie and both women had been trained on how to use the nerve agent. The evidence for this, it says, is that both women immediately went to the bathroom to wash their hands after the confrontation with Jong-nam.
The trial continues. Both Aisyah and Huong face the death penalty if convicted.