- (Photo: Reuters/KCNA)
Former NBA superstar Dennis Rodman is apparently using the friendship he has developed with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un to call for the release of Kenneth Bae, the U.S. citizen sentenced to 15 years of labor in the isolated Republic.
"I'm calling on the Supreme Leader of North Korea or as I call him 'Kim,' to do me a solid and cut Kenneth Bae loose," Rodman said on Twitter.
Bae, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in South Korea, was arrested on Nov. 3 in the North Korean city of Rason (formerly Rajin) while escorting five European tourists. He was later sentenced to 15 years behind bars, supposedly for endangering national security.
The 44-year-old tour operator apparently had links to the Christ-centered, humanitarian outreach Joseph Connection, located in Ohio, which arranges trips to restricted countries "to touch the average person."
"I knew that Jesus wanted me to be a 'channel' to the North," Bae reportedly told a Korean congregation in the U.S. in 2011. "This year, I'm working at taking several short term missionary teams into North Korea."
The White House and a number of human rights organizations have called for the 44-year-old U.S. citizen to be released immediately, with the U.S. State Department asking for Bae to be granted amnesty.
Rodman is now also getting involved in the case, though the exact nature of the "friendship" between him and Kim remains unclear. The basketball star visited North Korea and its leader in February for an exhibition game, and the two have apparently talked about summer vacation plans together.
"He's proud, his country likes him – not like him, love him, love him," Rodman said of the North Korean leader. "Guess what, I love him. The guy's really awesome."
Some Christian groups blasted Rodman for this supposed friendship, reminding the former NBA player that North Korea is one of the most oppressive nations in the world that routinely imprisons and executes Christians for their faith.
"From incarcerating Christians and political prisoners in gulags to executing those caught fleeing over the Chinese border; North Korea's despotic rulers have consistently held the title of worst oppressors in the world," Institute on Religion and Democracy Director Faith J.H. McDonnell said in a statement criticizing Rodman.
The North Korean leader has been highly unpredictable since taking control of the country in December 2011, but his hostile rhetoric and insistence on nuclear weapon testing has strained relations between the South Pacific country and the rest of the world.