Police and officials from the Gambia Revenue Agency (GRA) on June 14, 2017, shut down the Daily Observer newspaper and forced all staff from the publication to leave the office, saying the publication owed 17 million dalasi (U.S.$371,415) in unpaid taxes, Daily Observer Managing Director Pa Modou Mbowe told the Committee to Protect Journalists. The paper was ordered to remain closed for two weeks, and to pay 30 percent of the owed amount during that period, according to Gambian media reports.
The Daily Observer does not deny that it owes taxes, Mbowe told CPJ, but said that he feared the newspaper would be forced to close permanently if forced to pay roughly 5 million dalasi (U.S.$109,100) in two weeks.
“They think that the newspaper is run by the former President [Yahya] Jammeh,” Mbowe told CPJ. “They see the Observer as a threat, which we are not. We are responsible journalists.”
Gambian Information Minister Demba Ali Jawo said by email from Guinea Bissau that he was “very concerned” to hear of the Daily Observer‘s closing. “I intend to engage the Revenue Authority on the matter as soon as I get back to Banjul in order to get the Daily Observer operational again, pending the reaching of a workable payment plan,” he said.
Mbowe told CPJ he went to negotiate with the commissioner general on the day police shuttered the newspaper’s offices, offering the GRA front page advertisements in the paper as part of a “payment plan,” to no avail.
“We tried other payment plans before and they [the Daily Observer] did not pay,” GRA commissioner general Yankuba Darboe told CPJ. “We tried to call them many, many times.”
In the ongoing meetings with the GRA commissioner general, the Daily Observer is asking for a 20-year payment plan of 75,000 dalasi (U.S.$1636) per month, Mbowe told CPJ. This would be in addition to a 100,000 (U.S.$2182)-dalasi monthly tax bill the newspaper would begin paying if permitted to continue operations.
President Adama Barrow took office in January 2017, after the Jammeh’s 22-year rule, which saw journalists imprisoned and killed. In February 2017, CPJ wrote a letter requesting a meeting with President Barrow to discuss ways to improve the climate for the news media in The Gambia. In May 2017, the president welcomed the issuance of arrest warrants for two people suspected of murdering Gambian editor Deyda Hydara in 2004.