For most North Koreans, Rodman’s antics are no laughing matter

Could the relationship between Dennis Rodman and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un actually help the country's oppressed citizens?

Jason Mojica/AP

Dennis Rodman’s growing friendship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has mostly functioned in the United States as joke fodder. For every serious contemplation of it, there are 100 late-night talk show jokes and Internet memes.

But for a lot of North Koreans, Rodman’s status as an Ambassador of the free world (however unofficial) represents a little morsel of hope that their dictator could be open to change.

It sounds far-fetched until you read this heartbreaking open letter to Rodman from Shin Dong-hyuk, via the Washington Post.

Dong-hyuk was born a slave in a North Korean labor camp and is the only person known to have escaped to the West. He writes that he was born in a place called Camp 14, which exists "to punish, starve and work to death people who the regime decides are a threat." His crime, he writes, was being born a nephew to a man who fled to South Korea in the 1950s.

"At this very moment, people are starving in these camps," Dong-hyuk writes. "Others are being beaten, and someone soon will be publicly executed as a lesson to other prisoners to work hard and obey the rules. I grew up watching these executions, including the hanging of my mother."

His letter warns Rodman that Jong Un will deny the existence of Camp 14 and would refer to Dong-hyuck as "human scum," which is a common way for North Korean officials and press to describe those who flea North Korea.

"No dictatorship lasts forever," Dong-hyuck writes. "Freedom will come to North Korea someday. When it does, my wish is that you will have, in some way, helped bring about change. I end this letter in the hope that you can use your friendship with the dictator to be a friend to the North Korean people."