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A journalist who recently covered drug trafficking in Venezuela was assassinated last week, report the Institute for Press and Society (IPYS), the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and other IFEX members. He was slain just three days after the attempted murder of another journalist in southwestern Venezuela.

Two men on a motorbike shot to death Orel Sambrano, the editor of the political weekly "ABC" in Valencia, Carabobo on 16 January as he was getting out of his car.

Sambrano was also vice-president of the privately-owned Radio América radio station, a columnist for the regional daily "Notitarde", and a lawyer.

Sambrano had recently covered several drug trafficking stories, including a case involving the Makleds, an influential family in the region and the subject of an investigation by the national prosecutor's office after 400 kilograms of cocaine was found in their home last year.

According to IPYS, Carabobo's National Journalists' Association decreed a state of emergency following Sambrano's murder due to the risks faced by journalists in the region.

The murder of Sambrano came just three days after the attempted murder of Rafael Finol of the privately-owned daily "El Regional". Finol was grazed by a bullet on 13 January in Acarigua, southwestern Venezuela as he was leaving the office with colleagues, say IFEX members.

According to RSF, Finol said he was attacked for political reasons. "I knew this would happen after the recent interview I had with President Chávez," he said. "It was the work of the extreme right, who want to kill me." Finol is an avowed supporter of the President.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is calling for a swift and thorough investigation, especially in the current political climate. Last week, the National Assembly approved a constitutional amendment that would allow Chávez to run for indefinite re-election. The reform will be voted on in a popular referendum as early as 15 February.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) says the attacks are part of a pattern of serious violations of press freedom in Venezuela this month.

According to IFJ, a young graphic reporter, Jacinto López, was killed on 1 January and his partner and fellow graphic journalist Ricardo Marapacuto injured in Barquisimeto, Lara, in an attack that was blamed on general crime.

IFJ blames the attitude of law enforcement authorities for their failure to act against the behaviour of violent groups, allegedly associated with government sectors that publicly declare journalists and communication professionals as military targets.

Visit these links:
- CPJ:
- IFJ:
- RSF:
- International PEN Writers in Prison Committee:
- IPYS on Sambrano:
(Photo of Orel Sambrano, courtesy of Notitarde/Jacinto Oliveros)

(21 January 2009)

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