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Family of American held in North Korea 'appalled' by Dennis Rodman's outburst

Bill Richardson says Rodman "crossed a line" in his comments from North Korea

Jethro Mullen. Laura Smith-Spark and Tom Watkins | 1/8/2014, 9:24 a.m.
In an exclusive interview with Chris Cuomo of CNN's "New Day," Rodman reacted angrily when pressed on whether the party should have traveled there given recent events in the secretive country. CNN

— Eccentric basketball star Dennis Rodman's bizarre outburst about an American citizen jailed in North Korea has drawn widespread criticism, including from the prisoner's family.

Rodman is in North Korea with other former NBA players for a basketball game against a local team that's due to take place Wednesday, the birthday of the country's leader, Kim Jong Un.

Rodman, 52, who visited North Korea three times previously in the past year, describes Kim as a beloved friend, shrugging off the regime's heavily criticized human rights record.

In an exclusive interview from Pyongyang on Tuesday, he reacted angrily to a question from Chris Cuomo of CNN's "New Day" about whether he was planning to ask North Korean leaders about Kenneth Bae, a U.S. citizen who was sentenced to 15 years in a labor camp by North Korea last year on accusations that he intended to topple the government through religious activities.

Rodman suggested that Bae, a Korean-American whose health has deteriorated during his imprisonment, had done something wrong, but did not specify what.

"Do you understand what he did in this country?" Rodman asked Cuomo. "No, no, no, you tell me, you tell me. Why is he held captive here in this country, why?"

"I would love to speak on this," Rodman said, before abruptly switching the topic to talk about how his fellow basketball players had left their families behind to come to North Korea for the exhibition game.

Prisoner's family 'appalled'

Bae's sister, Terri Chung, told "Anderson Cooper 360" that Rodman's comments were shocking and outrageous.

Bae, a married father of three, has suffered a series of health problems during his detention and has been transferred from the labor camp to a hospital.

His mother, Myunghee Bae, who visited in October, told CNN that her son was a devout Christian who had not understood the system in North Korea.

North Korea is officially an atheist state and has said Bae's offenses included planning a "Jericho operation" to bring down its government through religious activities. The regime accused Bae of urging people to carry out "hostile acts" against the state.

Chung said Tuesday she was upset because Rodman didn't use his relationship with Kim to help gain her brother's release from the hospital.

"He was in a position to do some good and to help advocate for Kenneth," she said. "He refused to do so. But then instead he has chosen to hurl these outrageous accusations against Kenneth. He clearly doesn't know anything about Kenneth, about his case. And so we were appalled by that."

She said her brother was in North Korea legally, working as a tour operator, when he was arrested in November 2012. She said she hoped one of the former basketball players would take a chance to ask for amnesty for him.

"This isn't some game. This is about a person's life," she said.

The family on Wednesday released a statement -- with the title "Dennis Rodman: No Diplomacy, No Kindness or Decency for Kenneth Bae" -- that repeated calls for Bae's release.