IT was a murder that stunned the world. And it happened at Malaysia’s doorstep.
Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was poisoned right in the middle of the ever-busy KLIA2 on Feb 13, 2017. His face was smeared with a banned nerve agent.
The death of the 45-year-old linked to the top guy from the Hermit Kingdom became headline news for weeks after that.
Both the Malaysian and international press staked out at the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur daily.
The Forensics Department of the Hospital Kuala Lumpur became a media hotspot as well. Crime journalist Justin Zack went to the mortuary every day for almost a month.
“I was there for about 10 to 11 hours a day, sometimes longer,” he said.
It was a long wait each day, he said, as the body was not claimed then.
“Every now and then, you would see a little bit of action when the embassy staff or a DPP came over. But it was relatively peaceful until the last few days when the body was handed over,” he recalled.
The street vendors nearby decided to take advantage of the hordes of newsmen.
“They started coming over to sell food to us,” he said.
Two women – an Indonesian and a Vietnamese – went on trial for the Cold War-style murder but both of them maintained their innocence.
According to them, they thought they were taking part in a prank for a reality TV show.
They were brought to the Sepang Magistrate’s Court in March 2017 to be charged with the murder.
“It was quite a sight,” recalled court reporter Nurbaiti Hamdan.
“Two ladies, looking demure and seemingly harmless, being surrounded by men in balaclava!”
Nurbaiti also covered the murder trial which started in October 2017 at the Shah Alam High Court.
“What stood out the most, for me, was the heightened security at an otherwise normal court complex. This would be by far the strictest security I’ve seen while covering a court case,” she said.
She said the two women were escorted by at least 20 officers from the (now-defunct) Special Task Force on Organised Crime.
“These officers were dressed in all black; black boots, black bulletproof vests, and balaclava,” Nurbaiti said.
It was also the first time that she experienced how the court management provided a separate room for the media to view the live proceedings inside the open court.
“We called it the videolink room. To enter both the open court and the videolink room, reporters had to surrender their handphones and laptops. We had to take notes using pens and notebooks,” she recalled.
“Each of them would have an interpreter by her side. Before the start of the proceedings, they looked happy to see people from their respective embassies there.
“They talked to the embassy people and the interpreters. I assume it is very isolating being in a jail, so each time they were out at the courtroom, they appeared to be in high spirits,” Nurbaiti added.
Once proceedings ended, she said the women would be swiftly removed from the courtroom, escorted by the men in black once more.
In March 2019, the prosecutors dropped their charges against then 27-year-old Siti Aishah.
She returned to Indonesia about two months later.
As for Doan Thi Huong, she pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of “causing injury”.
She was sentenced to three years and four months’ imprisonment but her jail time was shortened as she was entitled to a one-third remission on the prison sentence.
Doan, who was 30 at the time, went back to Vietnam in May 2019.
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