Dennis Rodman may think he and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un are best buddies, but escapees of the Hermit Kingdom say the oddball NBA Hall of Famer is more doormat than diplomat.
“You think Kim Jong Un is your friend, but he is just using you,” Jo Jin Hye, a North Korean refugee who has become a human rights advocate working with U.S.-based North Korea Freedom Coalition and is founder of NKinUSA told FoxNews.com in a message directed at Rodman.
“He’s friendly with you just so he can mislead his people,” she said. “He wants to make them think that the outside world accepts their leader.”
Jo, who most recently testified before the UN Commission of Inquiry on the atrocities committed in her homeland, added that many who have made it out of North Korea are angry that Rodman is currently in North Korea extolling the virtues of Kim, who he has called his “friend.” On Wednesday, Rodman sang "Happy Birthday" to Kim before taking to the court with a group of former NBA players in an exhibition game with North Korean players.
“I don’t understand why he would go there,” Jo said. “He [Rodman] says they are friends, but how can he be friends with someone like Kim Jong Un? He has killed members of his own family like animals.”
Jo also said that Rodman, who dedicated the game at Pyongyang Indoor Stadium to his "best friend," is likely not being shown the true North Korea.
“Kim Jong Un is probably only showing him nice hotels and places and keeping him away from the public.”
Jo said Rodman should assume he is being watched and recorded every second that he is in the communist nation.
“I believe that Kim Jong Un is videotaping their time together,” she said. “Maybe he would use it in the future for something he may want.”
Human rights advocates say Rodman's claim he is on a diplomatic mission is misguided. In addition to treating his own citizens horribly, Kim, who followed his father and grandfather into office, is holding American Christian missionary Kenneth Bae in prison for allegedly conspiring to overthrow the government.
“To go there is to be a denier,” Suzanne Scholte, of the North Korea Freedom Coalition, told FoxNews.com. “There is no upside. The only upside is if Kenneth Bae returns home with him.”
Rodman said he was honored to be able to play the game in the North Korean capital, and called the event "historic." To keep it friendly, the Americans played against the North Koreans in the first half, but split up and merged teams for the second half. The North Korean team scored 47 points to 39 for the Americans before the teams were mixed. Rodman played only in the first half and then sat next to Kim during the second half.
The game is a new milestone in Rodman's unusual relationship with Kim, who rarely meets with foreigners and remains a mystery to much of the outside world. Kim, who inherited power after the death of his father in late 2011, is believed to be in his early thirties, but his age has not been officially confirmed. Until recently, his birthday was also not widely known -- though it was quietly observed elsewhere around the capital Wednesday.
Rodman is the highest-profile American to meet Kim. He claims to be seeking only to build cultural connections with North Korea through basketball.
But many have criticized him back in the United States -- including members of Congress, the NBA and human rights groups-- calling his multiple visits ill-advised and his refusal to use his influence with Kim to help free Bae.
“North Korea is arguably the worst human rights violator in the world,” Scholte said at a press conference on Monday, organized by the Wiesenthal Center and Museums of Tolerance.
“At this point, for Dennis Rodman and these players to participate in a propaganda coup for the regime is a terrible setback for the human rights movement. We’re calling upon these players not to participate in this charade.”