Jacobo Timerman, the Argentine newspaper publisher whose arrest and detention for 2 1/2 years became an international symbol of human rights abuses in Argentina, was stripped of his citizenship and expelled from the country late this afternoon.
Timerman was taken secretly from his apartment in central Buenos Aires, where he had spent more than a year under house arrest, to Ezeiza International Airport here and placed aboard a flight to Rome before any official announcement of his departure was made.
According to an official communique issued by the government after Timerman was safely in the air, he left with a "non-Argentine" passport that had an Israeli visa stamped inside. It is expected that Timerman will leave Rome immediately upon his arrival there to rejoin his family in Israel.
(Timmerman's wife was in New York visiting her son, Hector, a student at Columbia University, when she received the news. Hector, 25, told the Associated Press: "We all jumped in excitement when we heard the news; We had talked with my father in the morning, but at that time he didn't know anything."
(The family is expected to join Timerman in Israel on Thursday.)
The secrecy and security surrounding Timerman's expulsion was so strict that not even the publisher's rabbi, Marshall Meyer -- the only person in regular contact with Timerman since his arrest in April 1977 -- knew that Timerman was to be released today.
For Rabbi Meyer, the first hint of what happened came at 5 p.m. when he arrived at Timerman's apartment for a regular visit only to be told by security police that the publisher had taken a sedative and did not want to be disturbed.
Fearing that Timerman had been kidnaped, Meyer said that he rushed to the Israeli Embassy here, where he eventually learned that Timerman was on his way to the airport by helicopter, accompanied by the Israeli charge d'affairs. The official government communique was released at 7:30 p.m.
Timerman's release came less than a week after the Inter-American Human Rights Commission left Argentina at the end of a two-week inspection of the human rights situation here. Among the political prisoners the commission interviewed during its stay was Timerman, whose newspaper, La Opinion, was considered one of the finest in the Spanish-speaking world before Timerman's arrest.
The military continued to operate the newspaper after Timerman's arrest.
Last week, the Argentine Supreme Court made public a recent decision in which it ruled that Timerman should be set free. In July 1978, the court held that the military had no judicial grounds for the publisher's detention.
His release today was viewed by political and diplomatic observers here as a significant victory for President Jorge Videla and those within the Argentine military government who believe that certain concessions must be made in the face of international demands that Argentina improve its record on human rights.
Videla, a retired general who reportedly threatened to resign if Timerman were not released this week, is portrayed by his aides as consistently advocating the end of the extralegal activities. Other observers, however, maintain that he is either a weak president if he cannot control the violence, or has less interest in improving Argentina's human rights record than he says. t is known that the military was deeply divided over whether to release Timerman. Sources here said Videla told members of the human rights commission that these divisions within the military, especially the Army, made decisions such as releasing Timerman extremely difficult.
Videla reportedly said that many generals still believe that terrorism can only be fought with methods that would be considered serious violations of due process and human rights in much of the world.
Timerman, for example, was initially kidnaped by military security forces and held incommunicado for several days and tortured. He was kept in jail for a year without charges while he was being "investigated" for alleged links to the Montonero urban guerrilla group.
Amid mounting pressure from the Carter administration and many Jewish groups, which saw Timerman's detention without charges as proof of anti-Semitism on the part of the military here, Timerman was finally transferred from prison to house arrest in April 1978.