Israeli prime minister issues the plea for the Israeli-American sentenced to 7.5 years in a Russian jail for having 9 grams of marijuana in her checked luggage.
By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took advantage of a birthday call Russian President Vladimir Putin made to him Monday to press again for a pardon for an Israeli tourist sentenced in Russia for drug smuggling after nine grams of marijuana were found in her checked luggage.
Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said the two leaders discussed the possibility of a presidential pardon for 26-year-old Naama Issachar during a cordial phone call Putin made to wish Netanyahu a happy 70th birthday, during which he praised the Israeli prime minister “for making a huge personal contribution to the development of mutually beneficial cooperation in a variety of fields.”
This is the second time Netanyahu has asked Putin to step in on behalf of Issachar, who had until her arrest a completely clean record. Last week, both he and President Reuven Rivlin formally requested that such a pardon be granted even before Issachar’s lawyers’ begin the process of appealing the sentence.
The usual sentence upon finding such a small amount of the recreational drug is usually about one month for “possession,” and a minimal monetary fine. However, Issachar was sentenced to 7.5 years on a charge of drug smuggling, even though the cannabis was not on her person as she waited for a connecting flight in the Moscow airport.
She has already been in jail for over six months, in conditions that her family says are threatening her mental and emotional well-being.
The disproportional sentence is believed to be a pressure tactic employed by the Russian authorities to prevent Israel from extraditing a Russian hacker named Alexei Burkov to the United States, where he is wanted for suspected cybercrimes.
According to news reports in Israel and Russia, he was arrested in Israel while on a private trip in 2015, based on an Interpol warrant issued by the American authorities.
Israel’s Supreme Court just recently cleared the way for Burkov to be sent to the U.S. Issachar’s family has pleaded with Justice Minister Amir Ohana not to sign the extradition order.
Issachar moved to Israel at age 16 from New Jersey, where she was born and raised, and as such is also an American citizen.
However, although the family has repeatedly requested help from the State Department, congressmen and senators, and even White House special adviser Jared Kushner, no American official has stepped in to assist them as yet.