By Jethro Mullen, Laura Smith-Spark and Tom Watkins, (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.
During 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 charges he intended to topple the government.
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 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 religious activities were among Bae’s offenses.