A team from Pan African Telecom giant, Econet Wireless, along with the Zimbabwean police,  raided Reuters affiliated business news  agency, The Source, in Harare this week. Econet’s decision to embark on the raid was driven by suspicion that reporters working for the agency stole internal documents from the telecom firm.

The raid was conducted after a Zimbabwe High Court judge gave Econet Wireless and its financial subsidiary, Steward Bank, the green light to search The Source premises and computers for internal information belonging to the firms and “to seize and place such information in the custody of the Registrar” of the court.

Econet and Steward Bank claimed that the reporters stole the documents and wrote offensive stories about both companies’ dealings. In one of the articles, Econet was reported to have bailed out the cash-strapped Zimbabwe government with a $30 million loan while the facilitator of the deal, Tawanda Nyambirayi, was given over $250,000 as a token of appreciation. Other stories attempted to expose the inability of flamboyant businessman Philip Chiyangwa to repay a loan secured from Steward Bank.

Econet lawyers, accompanied by the sheriff department and technology experts, sifted through staff communications and retrieved emails and documents. The police stood watch throughout the proceedings.

Media Institute for Southern Africa (Misa) director, Nhlanhla Ngwenya, said Econet was abusing its financial muscle to trample on press freedom. “This is a sad day for the media,” he said. “It’s sad that Econet, a big company which operates with the public and has in its position personal information for millions of Zimbabweans, has decided to demand that The Source reveals its source for a story it authored.”

The Source was created by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and the European Journalism Centre in 2013, with core funding from the Dutch government.

By George Mpofu

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