RANCASUMUR, Indonesia (AP) – 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.
Aisyah had an emotional reunion with her parents after returning to Indonesia on Monday. On Tuesday she met with President Joko Widodo and thanked him for his help.
Authorities in Malaysia, where Aisyah had been detained for two years and faced a possible death penalty, released her 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 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 reality TV show.
From the beginning, Indonesian officials have 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-$200 per prank.
It’s unclear if Malaysia will also 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 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. Malaysia, which is approaching developed-nation income levels, is a magnet for millions of Indonesians, who typically find work there 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.
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.
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.”