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Econet's Seizure of News Agency Property Irks Zimbabwe Journalists

  • Irwin  Chifera

Econet Wireless is alleged to have extended a $30 million loan to the government and $2.1 million to businessman, Philip Chiyangwa.

Econet Wireless is alleged to have extended a $30 million loan to the government and $2.1 million to businessman, Philip Chiyangwa.

The Deputy Sheriff on Thursday raided the offices of a local news agency, The Source, an affiliate of Thomson Reuters News Agency, over two stories that involve telecommunications giant, Econet Wireless, seeking information that the mobile phone giant says is confidential and has a bearing on its internal private and commercial arrangements.

There was commotion when the deputy sheriff, in the company of Econet lawyers, the police and officials from Steward Bank, among others, ransacked The Source’s offices in the capital.

The raid on the news agency relates to two published stories in which Econet Wireless is alleged to have extended a $30 million loan to the government and the other about businessman, Philip Chiyangwa, using land to pay off a $2.1 million Econet Steward Bank debt.

The swoop follows a ruling on March 16 this year by High Court Justice Musakwa granting a provisional order stopping The Source from publishing or re-publishing information relating to Econet, Steward Bank and its customers, including details of their loan or credit agreements.

The Source news agency’s attorney, Chris Mhike, said Econet used the High Court order to raid and search the news organization’s offices.

Econet Wireless, which has celebrated rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa as one of its attorneys, said the information used by The Source is confidential and has a bearing on its internal private and commercial arrangements.

Mhike said he’s waiting for a ruling on an urgent application he made last week seeking the referral of the matter to higher courts. The application is seeking the protection of sources and media rights.

This raid provoked anger within the Zimbabwean media and human rights defenders who are charging that Econet is now colluding with the government to intimidate the media.

Secretary general Foster Dongozi of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists said Econet and Steward Bank had in his words “trampled on journalists’ rights and urinated on press freedom.”

Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe national chairperson, Kumbirai Mafunda, said the raid violates media freedom which is guaranteed by the constitution.

Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, hardly a friend of the media himself, twitted against the raid this afternoon saying it was very concerning. He added, in his words, that “some big person is trying to hide a big stink.”

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