International PEN condemns the murder of newspaper editor and columnist Orel Zambrano, who was shot dead on January 16, 2009. The killing came just three days after the attempted murder of another editor, Rafael Finol, on January 13. PEN calls on the Venezuelan government to investigate these crimes as a matter of urgency and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Background Information

Orel Zambrano (or Sambrano), director and editor of the political weekly ABC and columnist for the regional daily Notitarde, in Valencia, Carabobo state, was murdered on January 16, 2009. The motive of the crime is yet to be established, although it is thought that Zambrano may have been targeted for recent articles on drug trafficking.

Zambrano (62), who was also vice president of a radio station as well as a university professor and a practicing lawyer, was walking from his car to a film rental store in Valencia when he was approached by two men on a motorbike, one of whom shot him three times at close range. The assailants then fled, leaving Zambrano to die at the scene from a bullet wound to the back of his head.

The journalist had reportedly covered several drug trafficking cases in recent weeks. One story in particular was on an influential business family in the region, three members of which were arrested in possession of 400 kilos of cocaine on November 14, 2008, and are now the subject of an investigation by the national prosecutor's office. Zambrano had not reported any previous threats.

The Public Ministry (Ministerio Público) said that the judicial police had opened an investigation into Zambrano’s murder. The police have yet to make any statements but 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 state, on January 13. Finol (61) 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.

Practicing journalism in Venezuela has become increasingly hazardous in recent years, with attacks on print journalists rising by 50 percent from 13 incidents recorded by PEN in 2007 to 19 in 2008.

2008 saw the murder of a newspaper director and the imprisonment on dubious charges and alleged torture of an editor. Physical assaults in particular rose, with eight journalists and one newspaper attacked. The majority of attacks were reportedly carried out by individuals associated with the state or groups identified as pro-government in retaliation for critical reporting on state activities and corruption or for allegedly encouraging assassination attempts on President Chávez.

Write A Letter

  • Expressing shock at the murder of newspaper editor and columnist Orel Zambrano on January 16, 2009, and the attempted murder of political editor Rafael Finol on January 13, 2009; 
  • Expressing concern that both journalists may have been targeted for exercising their internationally recognized right to freedom of expression and opinion;
  • Calling on the Venezuelan authorities to investigate these crimes as a matter of urgency and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Send Your Letter To

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
Fax: +58 212 506 1557
Salutation: Señor Ministro/Dear Minister

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
Fax: +58 212 509 8504
E-mail: [email protected]
Salutation: Señora Fiscal General/ Dear Attorney General

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Venezuela in your country if possible.

Please send appeals immediately. Check with PEN if sending appeals after March 20, 2009: ftw[at]