The Thomson Reuters Foundation and the European Journalism Centre condemn the raid that took place on Thursday at the offices of The Source, an online business and financial news service in Zimbabwe.
According to Reuters witnesses, police and lawyers from Econet Wireless raided the offices of The Source in a dispute over stories published by the agency earlier this year. The lawyers, accompanied by the sheriff department and technology experts, went through staff communications and downloaded emails and documents onto a memory stick, the witnesses said.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation and the European Journalism Centre created The Source with core funding from the Dutch government two years ago to encourage the highest standards of business journalism in Zimbabwe. The Source is now independent from the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“We deeply regret today’s events. Although The Source is now independent from us, we are close to The Source editorial team in Harare, which implements the highest standards of business journalism with fair, accurate and impartial reporting at its core,” said Monique Villa, CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“We regret the events in Harare and ask the authorities to ensure that The Source continues to provide citizens and stakeholders with trusted financial and business news and analysis,” said Wilfried Ruetten, Director of the European Journalism Centre.
As reported by Reuters earlier on Thursday, Econet Wireless and its Steward Bank business have criticised stories published by The Source in February and March. They have not disputed the content of the stories, but say the agency used internal documents without their authority.
A High Court judge on March 16 granted Econet and Steward an order to search the premises and computers of the agency for information belonging to the firms and "to seize and place such information in the custody of the Registrar" of the court.
The Source and its reporters challenged the action and sought to have the case referred to the Constitutional Court (Concourt). They argued the order violated constitutional rights of freedom of expression and freedom of the media.
The High Court has not yet ruled on the request by The Source for referral to the southern African nation's highest court.
The lawyers and technology experts combed through emails for more than an hour and downloaded them onto a memory stick.
Chris Mhike, a lawyer for The Source who was present during the search, said he had hoped Econet would have waited for the Constitutional Court decision before conducting the raid.
Foster Dongozi, secretary general of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, said the action by Econet and Steward was a "brazen attack on press freedom".äó†