Fresh off her appearance on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” Tuesday evening, Terri Chung continued to express frustration over Dennis Rodman’s latest comments about Kenneth Bae, her imprisoned brother in North Korea.
In a phone interview afterward, Chung said she was awakened at 4 a.m. to the news of Rodman’s meltdown during his morning appearance with CNN’s Chris Cuomo. (I wrote about that in this Opinion NW blog post.)
“I was shocked. I just couldn’t believe it. It’s one thing for him to say he’s not a diplomat that he’s not going to advocate for Kenneth Bae. He’s refused to help. That’s his choice,” she said. “But then he throws these accusations at Kenneth when he clearly has no clue what he’s talking about. It was appalling and beyond me.”
Chung said the recent news of political purges and executions in Pyongyang has elevated her concerns for her brother’s safety. The family was able to speak to him on the phone Dec. 29. The 45-year-old tour operator told them he remains hospitalized with severe back problems. Chung says Bae spoke to his children for the first time since his detainment began in November 2012.
“He misses them and he wants to come home,” she said. “I just don’t want Kenneth to be forgotten. And I also don’t want Kenneth to be used as a media story. This isn’t some game. Dennis Rodman can play all the publicity stunts he wants with his own self, but this isn’t a game. This is someone’s life, a father of three who deserves to come home.”
After Rodman’s outburst, during which he defended North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and cast a negative light on Bae (“Do you understand what he did in this country?”), several political leaders came to the family’s defense, including U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash.
NBA Commissioner David Stern appeared on CNN’s “Situation Room” to distance the league from Rodman and to say he believes the Hall of Famer is “blinded by the payday.” Watch the video below:
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Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson via Politico:
“I thought Dennis Rodman crossed a line this morning by implying that Kenneth Bae might be guilty, by suggesting that there was a crime. There is no crime.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney via The Washington Post:
“We remain gravely concerned about Kenneth Bae’s health and continue to urge [North Korean] authorities to grant his amnesty and immediate release on humanitarian grounds.”
Chung said her family is grateful for the support, but it will take sustained attention for the North Koreans to release Kenneth Bae after nearly 14 months behind bars for unspecified “hostile acts” against the regime. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, but hospitalized over the summer due to health concerns.
“It’s going to take some sort of intervention from the U.S. government,” she said. “They have to formally request amnesty for Kenneth. More than that, maybe do something proactive that goes beyond a verbal request to bring him home.”
The American players with Rodman in North Korea are scheduled to participate in an exhibition game on Wednesday. They should do more than just go along with this bizarre public relations stunt. They should use it as an opportunity to ask questions about Kenneth Bae. Better yet, these American cultural ambassadors should use their privileged status in Pyongyang to try to bring him home.
Update 12:20 p.m.
The BBC World Service’s “World Have Your Say” radio program asked me to come on the show Wednesday morning to discuss Rodman’s trip to North Korea and his hostile reaction to questions about Kenneth Bae. Listen to the audio at this link. The conversation begins at about the 28:20 mark.