Sallahuddin and Yakeen Thulsie on 7 February
It’s fair to say the mainstream media tried the Thulsie brothers, who happen to be twins, from the onset. Reports of the Thulsies pleading guilty to charges – two out of the twelve – made headlines, with no mention of the fact that ten of those charges were dropped. The insinuation that the Thulsies agreed to the plea agreement being a sign of their guilt, by some of the popular media houses exposes poor effort and understanding.
Gone are the days of fair journalism. Journalism in the present is about being free, to report quickly, without thought or consideration, as long as the race to upload is won. The line between a “breaking story” and sensationalism is sometimes crossed. Creating and embedding impressions and thoughts is common practice.
For six years, the narrative of twins portrayed as radicals who intended to join ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and Levant), and bomb embassies in South Africa, has been a frequent theme in the mainstream media. Photos of boys, as teenagers, with what could be toy guns were opportunistically used to paint a picture of violent boys which is not aligned with the description of them given in court and the plea and sentencing agreement. A copy of which most, if not all, reporters have. The boys were, like many other teenagers, discovering girls, partying, and disinterested in school.
In an interview with Nadeem Mohammed, attorney to the Thulsies, he noted, “none of the non-Muslim media houses, safe for The Citizen,” had contact him for comment. News’ social media pages and web page comments are fraught with people saying, “The boys are terrorists”, “They pleaded guilty to terrorist acts”, “We’ve been saved by these bombers”, “They should be locked up and the key thrown away”.
The Thulsies made it quite clear they wanted their day in court where they would be honest and explain their side of the story. Yet it’s possible the justice system failed them because of pressure put on them to act after being supplied alleged intended terrorist activity and to protect foreign relations with the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK). It has been implied that the Thulsies’ defence team dragged the case along.
“This issue of whether the defence was playing a delaying tactics game is neither here nor there,” says Doctor Ahmed Jazbhay from the Media Review Network (MRN).
“The crux of the matter is that key evidence was withheld by the prosecutors at their behest, and I think this is something that perhaps the portfolio committee can request, was there foreign intervention, was there pressure built up,” Jazbhay explains.
“The state refused to provide information to the defence, saying it was privileged [and] confidential. and it took the court to order the state to make information available so that the defence could have something to work with,” information reiterated by Ganief Hendricks from the Al Jama-ah party.
Here you have two young men charged with POCDATARA – the Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terrorist Related Activities Act, waiting, in limbo, in prison, without a trial judge, a trial date and without bail.
Hendricks says this “created the perception that South Africa still has detention without trial and six years like that amounts to torture in terms of the convention.”
Background from the Plea Agreement
Brandon-Lee and Tony-Lee Thulsie now go by the names Sallahuddin and Yakeen. They accepted Islam at fourteen. They were raised by their mother, after their father was killed when they were three. They had a difficult childhood, not to say one without love. This is evident in the support of their family in court. After high school, they turned their lives around, embraced Islam and began learning about the faith. They wanted to move to a country where they could live under Islamic law and “live a perfect life”.
“For that reason, they opted to go to the first place they believed they could go to and that happened to be Syria and it happened to be with a guy who was radicalised by ISIL and did want to fight for them. They didn’t want to fight but they were hitching a ride unfortunately on the wrong wagon. That’s it. But that unfortunately is a crime,” says a source close to the case.
They saved up some money to take a trip to Turkey, they were stopped, questioned, and turned away from the airport, and thus not allowed to leave the country. Left penniless, they became despondent. Brandon-Lee went back to work at Discovery to try and save up some money. In the process of doing this he became more desperate to leave to go to Syria. On a Telegram chat group they had joined, Tony-Lee began chatting to an undercover CIA agent.
“This is factual. There’s no denying, it’s common cause. The undercover operative baited them. He found the people within the Republic that sounded like they would be a willing pawn and they jumped on the bandwagon… They had no inclination towards planning a terrorist attack. Had it not been for this undercover operative and for this unconstitutional and invalid and unlawful section 252 trap, accused 2 [Tony-Lee] would not have made contact with that individual whatsoever. And by virtue of that contact. There was money that was sent and they thought it was quite easy… And on and on it went until such time they became heavily entrapped by the scheme and plot put together in conjunction with South African security agencies and international agencies,” explains Mohammed.
At the age of twenty-three they were arrested at their homes, a few streets away from each other. Twenty to thirty armed officers raided both houses, including a neighbour’s, with a search warrant for only one home and without an affidavit. No evidence of bombs, weapons, or materials to make weapons or bombs were found.
“[There was] absolutely no evidence. You know what the judge said, ‘There is clear and common cause that there was not even so much an attempt to execute the crimes that they were alleged to have been planning. There was not even a formalistic makeup of an actual plan that could, of its own volition, have been executed’,” explains Mohammed about the presence of evidence.
The evidence that was present, was both unlawful and unconstitutional, explains Hendricks, evidence indicating that America and Britain conducted undercover operations in South Africa and supplied this information to South African security agencies bounding them by the UN resolution to act harshly against any form of terrorism.
“It’s clear these twins were entrapped by foreign agents… To a large extent their emotions were played on and they were youngsters. They were barely out of their teens,” says Jazbhay.
“They were vulnerable. They were emotional and unfortunately at that stage they let slip information and they said things they should not have said. They had requested things they should not have requested and this went on for many months until such a stage [where] information was eventually handed over to the South African authorities.”
The legal aspect of entrapment is a complicated thing. The trap cannot go beyond the inclination to do something.
“There was no inclination to do any of the stuff they were accused of doing and the trap went beyond the inclination to do so,” Mohammed explains, “You cannot be baited into doing something you would not ordinarily have done.”
From its inception this case has been shrouded in secrecy and the plea agreement, to a large extent, is wrapped in secrecy also. There is a lot, even the twins’ lawyer has said, he cannot divulge at this stage because it is part of the agreement that some of the information will remain secret. According to Jazbhay, “this has obviously prejudiced the twins to a large extent.”
A number of charges were withdrawn, notably, financing terrorist activity and soliciting support for a terrorist organisation. The state entering a plea bargain may have been in the interests of all parties concerned. It could also point to the weakness of the state’s case in terms of other counts, which were also dropped.
The Bigger Picture
This case should be seen in terms of the bigger picture. The desire of the proponents of the war on terror to get all countries around the world to toe the line of the global war on terror including the Islamophobic agenda created to malign and vilify Muslims the world over.
“With this case we’ve already seen on social media, many comments,” Jazbhay mentions, “of ‘Muslims being terrorists’ and that they [the Thulsies] have admitted [wrongdoing] and ‘ISIL is now in South Africa’ and ‘there is going to be an ISIL takeover of South Africa’ and this speaks to the agenda of the war on terror and it is used to construct the good Muslim and the bad Muslim. If you are one who conforms to the status quo and adheres to the war on terror and the narrative of the war on terror, you are a good Muslim and if you challenge this ideology of the war on terror then you are a bad Muslim. You are not the Muslim [with which] these global intelligence agencies and much of the western world wants to construct.”
Guantanamo Bay was created for cases like this, manufactured cases. Nearly 800 prisoners have spent time at Guantanamo, all male and all Muslim. The war on terror has been crafted to signal out Islam as a religion to be feared. Out of every religion or ideology the world knows, Islam has been pursued.
Judge Mokgoatlhleng maintained this is only the second trial of criminal matter that has been adjudicated in accordance with POCDATARA and it is vastly distinguishable from the first.
He goes on to say, having read the plea and sentence agreement, “The boys were motivated by ideological beliefs and their faith, but this court does not punish people for their ideological beliefs and for their faith… It is only when the belief or the faith culminate in conduct which is criminal in accordance with the statutes of our country and even then, having read what was stated in the agreement, the boys were baited, the boys were controlled, and the boys were conspired against by their own friends. It is only by virtue of their association with that criminal that they were ultimately convicted.”
Much of this information was missing from many media reports. Continued biased and rushed reporting, by the media in general, could make us vulnerable as a country, to exploitation by foreign intelligence agencies, like the US and UK in this instance, and relegates South Africa to the status of a pawn in their “war on terror” agenda. Ultimately undermining the practice of justice for our citizens.