Former pro basketball star Dennis Rodman apologized today for his comments about Christian missionary Kenneth Bae, an American citizen currently imprisoned in a hard labor camp in North Korea.
Earlier this week, during an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, Rodman suggested Bae had done something to earn his harsh sentence: “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?”
In a prepared statement, Rodman apologized to Bae’s family, his teammates, and Cuomo: “I embarrassed a lot of people. I’m very sorry. At this point I should know better than to make political statements. I’m truly sorry.” Rodman traveled to North Korea to participate in an exhibition basketball game in honor of leader Kim Jong Un’s 31st birthday. Yesterday, he made headlines for serenading the dictator court side.
Two years ago, North Korean officials arrested Bae after claiming they discovered photos of starving orphans on his laptop. They prosecuted him for preaching and allegedly plotting to overthrow the government. In April, the country’s highest court sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor. Despite urging from American officials, pleas from his family, and Bae’s increasing health problems, North Korea has so far refused to release him.
The communist country is one of the most hostile to Christians: between 50,000 and 70,000 believers are currently imprisoned in North Korean labor camps for their faith. The nation’s leaders consider Christianity a threat to the Juche ideology, which combines Marxism with worship of the “Great Leader,” Kim Il Sung and his family.
Bae, who immigrated to the United States from South Korea when he was 16, first began working in the country under the auspices of a China-based tourism company called Nations Tour. According to the website set up to promote Bae’s release, his company was a combination of his faith and business skills. “His livelihood was to introduce the natural beauty of the country and its people to the outside world as a tour operator,” the site claims. “His heart was to be a personal touch-point of compassionate humanity to the North Korean people.”
It was on one of his tours that Bae was arrested, but the details about what he was actually doing are murky. In the 10 months since then, his family has pleaded with American officials to petition for his release, but so far, to no avail. When Rodman first visited North Korea last year, he pledged to talk to the country’s dictator, Kim Jong Un, about Bae and “try to get the guy out.”.
“He was in a position to do some good and to help advocate for Kenneth,” Bae’s sister, Terri Chung, told CNN. “[I]nstead he has chosen to hurl these outrageous accusations against Kenneth. He clearly doesn’t know anything about Kenneth, about his case … we were appalled by that.”