The telecommunications company Econet Wireless and its affiliated bank, Steward Bank, obtained a court order on March 16, 2015, that compelled the Source, an independent online business news agency, to withdraw two of its stories and allowed police and technology experts to search the premises, news reports said.
An employee of the Source, who asked to remain anonymous because the case was still pending in court, told CPJ that it immediately filed a counter application and asked to have the matter referred to the Constitutional Court. The employee said the agency had a hearing on March 20, 2015, but that the judgment on the counter application was pending.
On March 26, 2015, a group of police officers, lawyers, and IT specialists from both Econet Wireless and Steward Bank acting on a provisional court order raided the offices of the Source, according to news reports. The group searched the offices and looked through documents and emails in an effort to seize documents they said had been stolen, the reports said.
Chris Mhike, a lawyer for the Source, told CPJ that the group was trying to identify where the Source had gathered information for two stories published in February and March. Mhike said that Econet Wireless and Steward Bank were not challenging the veracity of the stories but that they said much of the information in the stories had been taken from stolen documents.
Mhike said this was a clear violation of Section 61 of Zimbabwe’s constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of the media, including the protection of confidential sources. The stories were clearly in the public interest, he said. The Source issued a statement that said Econet Wireless and Steward Bank had not shown “how the Source or its reporters are complicit in this alleged theft.”
The raid and court order were in connection with two stories, “Debt-Distressed Zimbabwe Moves to Reschedule Domestic Debt,” published in late February, and “Steward bank seeks land to settle $2.1 million Chiyangwa loan,” published in early March. The first story alleged that the government had borrowed $30 million from Econet, which was disbursed through Steward Bank, according to news reports. The second story suggested that Steward Bank was considering ways to recover millions of dollars borrowed by a property firm.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation and the European Journalism Center, which founded the Source in 2013, condemned the raid in a statement released on March 27, 2015.