January 26, 2015 / 2:13 PM / in 3 years

Argentina says journalists safe after one flees, fearing for life

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina’s cabinet chief on Monday said journalists could work safely in the country after the reporter who broke the news of the mysterious death of a state prosecutor fled to Israel, saying he feared for his life under the current government.

Damian Pachter, a journalist with the Buenos Aires Herald, is seen after landing at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv January 25, 2015. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

On Jan. 18, Damian Pachter was the first to report that prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who was investigating the deadly 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, had been found dead in his apartment from a gunshot wound to the head.

Nisman had been due to appear before Congress on Jan. 19, the day after his death, to face questions about his allegation that President Cristina Fernandez conspired to derail his investigation.

No arrests have been made yet but lead investigator Viviana Fein said on Monday she had charged the man who lent Nisman the gun found by his body with illegally providing a weapon. The crime carries a prison sentence in Argentina of one to six years, Fein said.

Pachter said his phones were tapped and that he was being followed before he fled the country.

“For sure, there are strong tensions in terms of opinions ... but with the most absolute freedom of expression, and there is no type of obstacle for any reporter to express whatever he thinks,” Argentine cabinet chief Jorge Capitanich told a regular news conference.

The government has come under fire for publishing Pachter’s travel details on Twitter. Capitanich said it did so to shed light on a case of public interest.

Nisman was found dead late on Jan. 18, a gunshot wound to his head and a 22-caliber pistol by his side along with a single shell casing.

Fein said investigators had started examining footage from the surveillance cameras in the building where Nisman lived. Her team was also checking telephone calls and DNA samples that are being held at a “site of maximum security”.

The authorities originally said evidence suggested the prosecutor had killed himself, but Fernandez later said the death was not a suicide.

She did not say who killed him, and no one has been arrested. Social media has been seething with conspiracy theories, some pointing at Fernandez and her government.

The government says it suspects rogue agents from its own intelligence services.

Pachter told website Infobae that he was unlikely to return while two-term Fernandez remained president. Fernandez is constitutionally barred from running in October’s election.

Editing by Lisa Von Ahn; Editing by Christian Plumb

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