The knock-on effect of a throwaway BBC claim

An article from July 18th by the BBC’s Central Asia correspondent Rayhan Demytrie which appeared in both the ‘Magazine’ section of the BBC News website and on its Middle East page in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section tells the story of a man stuck in Kazakhstan’s Almaty International airport.

Kazakhstan article

In paragraph six of the story (which appears to have originated from the Mir 24 news agency) the following throwaway claim is made:

“The 26-year-old Palestinian refugee, born in Iraq, is confined to what officials call “the sterile zone” for travellers and airport staff – he’s the only one who belongs in neither category.

He cannot enter Kazakhstan because he has no visa, but nor does he have a visa to enter any other country. Israel won’t allow him to travel to the Palestinian territories, and the UN accepts that with no living relatives in Iraq, it would be unsafe for him to return to the country of his birth.” [emphasis added]

Kazakhstan article 2

Interestingly, out of all the “any other” countries in the world, the writer opts to name Israel – apparently on the flimsy basis of the fact that Iraqi-born Mr Al Bahish has ancestors who were at some point classed as Palestinian refugees.

Whether or not Mohammed Al Bahish has in fact applied for a visa to enter Israel (and from there to travel to the PA controlled territories or the Gaza Strip – which he could also reach, of course, via Egypt) is unclear from Demytrie’s account. Certainly, no official Israeli response to the accusation is presented at all. BBC Watch tried to find out via the relevant authorities in Israel, but in the absence of additional information (passport number, ID number, date of application or suchlike) was unable to clarify the question. Neither is it clear from the article whether Al Bahish is travelling on an Iraqi passport but even if that is the case, it is possible to apply for an entry visa. 

tourist visas

Hence, we cannot be sure whether Demytrie’s claim is based on fact, hearsay or supposition or indeed why Al Bahish would actually want to try to reach the “Palestinian territories” if he arrived in Kazakhstan to join his pregnant girlfriend there.

If one carried out an internet search in English for Mr Al Bahish’s name on July 18th, as I did,  two results turned up: this BBC article and another one  – from a Russian site which describes itself as an “Islamic information portal” – in which no mention of Israel is made. Since that date the number of results in several languages has mushroomed considerably, with many articles linking to or based on the BBC piece. 

As an example of the importance of BBC accuracy and how an unsourced, gratuitous throwaway line in an article published by the trusted BBC gains traction, note this July 21st rewrite of Demytrie’s claim from the Dubai-based Pars Herald:

“Unfortunately, he has no leave to go in Kazakhstan as he has no visa, but he cannot get a visa to go anywhere else and Israel refuse to let him go home [sic].” [emphasis added]