Matt Cooper: We felt watched at all times during North Korea trip
Published 10/01/2014 | 17:53
Today FM presenter Matt Cooper has described as how he was constantly monitored and shadowed during his visit to Pyongyang to attend a basketball game to celebrate North Korean dicator Kim Jong-Un's birthday.
Mr Cooper was among 14,000 spectators who witnessed the game between a selection of ex-NBA stars and the North Korean national team which was organised by controversial NBA star Dennis Rodman.
The broadcaster, who was working on a documentary for a British production company, revealed in an interview on The Last Word this evening tha every move he made was watched.
"I was accompanied at all times. From the time that I entered the lobby in the hotel when I came down from my room, we weren’t allowed out on our own, we weren’t allowed out on foot we had to drive everywhere," he told Fintan O'Toole on Today FM.
"That was something we had anticipated, we knew they was no chance we were actually going to get out and about and get away from our minders.
"This was unfortunately one of the conditions that we would have to operate under.
"Much to my surprise we were given internet access. We negotiated internet access and got it after two days. Our mobile phones wouldn’t work and there was no wifi in the hotel but we were able to plug in a laptop to find out what was going on back home.
"I was able to ring home and talk to Aileen my wife to fill her in on what was going on but we were working under the assumption that the phones were tapped and that we were being watched at all times."
Asked about the experience of attending the exhibition game, Cooper said: "It was an extraordinary atmosphere in the sense that before the game it was almost deathly quiet but then Kim arrived with his wife and the crowd erupted in a way that you would rarely see.
"It was spontaneous and it and it did seem to be an outpouring of emotion. It was extraordinary to see.
"I was thinking of would this happen in Ireland and I got a flashback to when Pope John Paul II came to Ireland in 79 and it was almost that same kind of outpouring of emotion and pure joy to see someone come among their midst.
"At the end when he got up to go as well, there was cheering and chanting and it seemed genuine. It seems as if the population have been so brainwashed by the cultist leadership over the last couple of generations that this seems utterly genuine.
"It was a difficult situation, I think, for some of the American players. I know from having spent time with them that they were uncomfortable with some of the publicity in the build-up to the match and the circumstances with which they were there.
"It was a very, very odd situation but perhaps no more odd than some choreographed things that we see in other places.
"I was within 20 feet of him, two rows back but he certainly doesn’t meet with the media.
"There were all sorts of restrictions placed on our camera crews as well. They were allowed certain positions on one side of the court and they were placed where they couldn’t turn and face Kim."
North Korea's poor human rights record and its threats to use nuclear weapons against South Korea and the US have kept it a pariah state. Rodman (52) has refused to address those concerns -- including the execution of Kim's uncle last month -- while continuing to forge a relationship with the leader.
The North Koreans were leading 47 points to 39 before the teams were mixed. Rodman played only in the first half and then sat next to Kim.
"A lot of people have expressed different views about me and your leader, your marshal, and I take that as a compliment," Rodman told the crowd.
"Yes, he is a great leader, he provides for his people here in this country and thank God the people here love the marshal."