Israeli backpacker loses appeal in Russia, 7.5 year sentence stands

December 20, 2019 by Arye Green -TPS
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A Russian court on Thursday rejected Israeli-American Naama Issachar’s appeal of her seven-and-a-half-year prison sentence for a minor drug offence.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Vladamir Putin Photo by Avi Ohayon/GPO on 31 May 2018

Twenty-six-year-old Issachar was arrested on April 9 at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, where she had stopped for a connecting flight to Tel Aviv from New Delhi. Russian authorities found 9.5 grams of cannabis in her luggage, arrested her and took her into custody to await trial.

She was convicted on October 11 in Moscow’s Khimki City Court on charges of drug possession and smuggling and was sentenced to seven and half years in prison.

In her appeal, Issachar said that during the investigation, she was told to sign a document, not knowing she was signing a confession. She said there was no translator present and she didn’t understand the document she was told to sign.

She also said the drugs were not hers, and someone else had placed them in her luggage.

“I didn’t buy drugs and I didn’t put them in my bag. I said several times that it was not mine… No one asked if the drugs are mine during the investigation or after,” she explained.

Issachar added that she had no intention to enter Russia, as she was only stopping over at a Russian airport. Since she had no access to her luggage while she was there, she could not have intended to smuggle drugs into the country.

“I beg the judges to understand that I have been in prison for almost nine months, isolated from people who speak my language. This conviction will ruin my life over a crime I did not commit,” she said.

Upon hearing the court’s ruling, Naama’s mother Yafa told her to be strong, reassuring her that “this will all be over in a matter of days.”

After the decision was announced, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Issachar’s mother and told her that “despite the disappointing court decision I am not giving up. I’ll keep doing whatever I can to bring Naama home.”

On Tuesday, Netanyahu promised at a rally that he would “Bring Naama Home,” but his spokesperson later clarified that doing so would likely take time.

Issachar’s family responded to the ruling, calling it a “farce” and requesting that Netanyahu act to secure Naama’s quick release.

“We are distressed and angry. Everyone saw the farce that was going on when her voice was isolated in a glass booth. Disputes between Israel and Russia should not fall on her shoulders. We ask the prime minister – do not allow President Vladimir Putin to land in Israel without Naama returning home,” they said.

Russian and Israeli diplomats convened in Jerusalem to discuss the matter of Issachar’s imprisonment, as well as the recent detainment of dozens of Israelis at Russian airports. Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a statement the discussions were “positive.”

Putin had reportedly offered a deal that would facilitate a swap between Issachar and Alexei Burkov, a Russian hacker who is wanted for cyber-crimes in the US and has been detained in Israel for the past four years. However, Burkov was extradited to the US in October as planned and no prisoner-swap occurred.

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