The family of American missionary Kenneth Bae, currently serving a labor camp sentence in North Korea, was “appalled” and “outraged” by basketball player Dennis Rodman’s insinuation that Bae deserved to be imprisoned on CNN yesterday.
Sister Terri Chung spoke to Anderson Cooper last night about Rodman’s accusation that Bae did “one thing” in North Korea to deserve his sentence. “We couldn’t believe our ears,” she told Cooper, “He was in a position to do some good and help advocate for Kenneth… [but] hurled these outrageous accusations.” Chung dismissed Rodman’s knowledge of the matter, and Cooper agreed that “he clearly doesn’t know anything about his case” and “has done no research at all about North Korea” itself.
Chung emphasized the fact that, while it may be entertaining to watch Rodman behave strangely and interact with a maniacal despot, “this isn’t about some game, this is about somebody’s life.” She noted that this past Christmas was the second that Bae has spent away from his family, and that he is now in a hospital in Pyongyang due to the stress of agricultural labor on his body. “He is an American citizen,” she emphasized, condemning Rodman’s behavior as “heartbreaking” to see “somebody who was in a position to help a fellow American refuse to do so.”
Chung pleaded with the other basketball players in Pyongyang to step up where Rodman had failed: “if you are in any position to advocate on his behalf, please do so.”
Rodman and an assortment of retired NBA players are in Pyongyang to celebrate Kim Jong-Un’s birthday with a basketball game against the North Korean national team. Rodman startled the nation with his rendition of “Happy Birthday” to “Dear Master,” which some observers noted was unexpected for Kim himself. While the trip has not ended– so Rodman’s teammates are not completely at liberty to speak within the confines of Pyongyang, teammate Charles Smith spoke to the media with what appeared to be regret for all the hullaballoo surrounding the trip and Rodman’s antics during what he thought would be a “positive” mission.
Rodman did–once, last May–call for Kim to “do me a solid” and release Bae in a response to a Seattle Times editorial calling for him to advocate for the American citizen. He has since visited North Korea several times and become more aggressive and agitated when reporters ask about Bae. When asked about Bae last September, he merely responded “that’s not my job;” yesterday, when asked again by CNN’s Chris Cuomo, he let out an extended rant accusing Bae of… something, but never specifying what.
Kenneth Bae is a U.S. citizen of South Korean descent previously living in China who established a tourism business that gave tours of Pyongyang. He was arrested in November 2012 for crimes against the state while on a tour in one of North Korea’s Special Economic Zones. The North Korean government has never said what Kenneth Bae did to get arrested, but sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor in the North Korean fields. The United States sent an envoy in August to attempt to negotiation for Bae’s release, but was ultimately unsuccessful. After falling ill due to the rigors of the agricultural work, Bae is now being detained in a Pyongyang hospital, continuing to serve his term. Bae is diabetic and lost 50 pounds in three months in the fields. He is a father of three.
Terri Chung’s conversation with Anderson Cooper last night via CNN can be seen below: