February 11, 2009

Minister of Justice and the Interior
Sr. Ramón Rodríguez Chacín
Ministerio del Poder Popular para Relaciones Interiores y Justicia
Av. Urdaneta, Edif. Sede MIJ, Piso 1, Carmelitas
Caracas, Venezuela
Fax: +58 212 506 1557

Attorney General
Dra. Luisa Ortega Díaz
Fiscal General de la República
Avda. México, Manduca a Pelelojo
Edif. Sede Fiscalía Geneal de la República, La Candelaria
Caracas, Venezuela
Fax: +58 212 509 8504

Your Excellency,

On behalf of the 3,300 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our concern regarding the murder of writer, lawyer, and professor Orel Zambrano and the attempted murder of editor Rafael Finol.

According to our information, Orel Zambrano, director and editor of the political weekly ABC and columnist for the regional daily Notitarde, was shot at close range by two men on a motorbike while exiting a video store on January 16, 2009. The assailants then fled, leaving Mr. Zambrano to die at the scene from a bullet wound to the back of his head. The journalist had reportedly angered several influential business families through his coverage of drug trafficking in recent weeks. Although the Public Ministry announced that the judicial police had opened an investigation into Zambrano’s murder, police have yet to make any statements. The circumstances of his death have given rise to speculation that a hired assassin was responsible.

Zambrano’s death came just three days after the attempted murder of Rafael Finol, political editor for the daily newspaper El Regional, who was shot outside the newspaper’s offices in Acarigua, Portuguesa on January 13, 2009. Finol was rushed to the hospital with a head wound but is reportedly making a good recovery. He believes that the attack was in reprisal for the newspaper’s support of President Chávez, whom Finol had recently interviewed.

PEN American Center is seriously concerned that the attacks on both Orel Zambrano and Rafael Finol are indicative of an increase in violence with impunity against journalists in Venezuela, and believe that both journalists may have been targeted for exercising their internationally recognized right to freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Venezuela is a signatory. We therefore call on the Venezuelan authorities to investigate these crimes as a matter of urgency and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Hannah Pakula                  
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee   

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC:  His Excellency Bernardo Alvarez Herrera
Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in the United States
1099 30th St., N.W.
Washington D.C. 20007
Fax: (202) 342-6820

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