Relatives and neighbors of the Indonesian woman accused of killing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s estranged half brother in Malaysia are preparing an emotional welcome home party after charges against her were unexpectedly dropped.
In Rancasumur, the Javanese village where Siti Aisyah grew up, residents said they cried with joy when they heard she had been freed. On Tuesday, her aunt Siti Sudarmi was preparing Aisyah’s favorite spicy beef dish as crowds of reporters waited outside the family home and excited children ran around the neighborhood shouting “Kim Jong Nam” — the name of the slain North Korean.
The night before, the tightknit village held prayers to thank God for Aisyah’s freedom.
“We were sure sooner or later she would be freed because she is innocent,” said Sudarmi.
Authorities in Malaysia, where Aisyah had been detained for two years and faced a possible death penalty, released her on 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 a Malaysian airport in 2017, causing his death.
The two women, both in their 20s and from humble backgrounds with little experience of the world outside their own countries, said they thought they were carrying out a prank for a reality TV show.
From the beginning, Indonesian officials have asserted that Aisyah was the naive and unwitting pawn of North Korean agents. It’s unclear if Malaysia will also drop charges against Huong.
Neighbors said that Aisyah was a victim of deception that many young village women are vulnerable to when they move to bigger cities in Indonesia or abroad.
Within hours of her release Monday, Aisyah was whisked back to Indonesia, reportedly on a private jet belonging to its ambassador to Malaysia, who is also co-founder of Indonesia’s Lion Air.
She had an emotional reunion with her parents and is expected to meet President Joko Widodo on Tuesday before returning to her village.
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,” said the 19-year old. “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.”