The Gambia Press Union is urging the Gambian authorities to explore alternative means to recover unpaid taxes by a pro-opposition newspaper and calls it abrupt closure an impairment to freedom of expression.
Saikou Ceesay, the Secretary General of the press union says the closing of the Daily Observer is regrettable.
“While GRA might have acted within the country’s tax laws, the GPU urges the tax authorities to explore other ways of settling the matter….
However, the GPU is of the considered view that the closure of the Daily Observer is regrettable and impairs freedom of expression in The Gambia,” Ceesay said.
While working to bring the two parties to dialogue and work out a realistic payment plan, the GPU is appealing to the GRA to allow the Daily Observer to resumes operations immediately.
At least 105 people have lost their jobs due to the closing of the paper, which had served as a mouthpiece for the regime of the former autocratic ruler, Yahya Jammeh.
Jammeh had seized control of the paper and used it to spew propaganda for his regime, accused of committing human rights abuses, corruption, and crimes against the state.
“The shutdown has rendered more than hundred media workers jobless and puts the company in a difficult position to respect its tax obligations,” according to Ceesay.
Gambia’s Revenue Department and the management of Daily Observer both confirmed that some D17 million dalasis (US$425,000 dollars) in taxes have not been paid.
A former Managing Director of the Daily Observer, Ousman Rambo Jatta claimed a payment plan had been in place during his short sting at the paper.
He accused Gambian authorities of targeting the paper on political grounds and condemned its closure.
The Union also reminded The Gambia government of its obligations to create a favorable environment for freedom of expression and “therefore urges the government to as a matter of urgency move to review the tax the regime imposed on the media in the country.”
The Jammeh regime imposed hefty taxes on newspaper to stifle dissenting views on his government. Jammeh had urged Gambians not to buy newspapers so that “journalist can starve to death.”