Israeli-American jailed in Russia on drug charges seeks second appeal

Naama Issachar’s mother concerned her daughter will be moved to isolated prison where conditions are harsher, says she is refusing to give up on legal route to her release

Israeli-American Naama Issachar, jailed for drug smuggling, attends her appeal hearing at the Moscow Regional Court on December 19, 2019. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP)
Israeli-American Naama Issachar, jailed for drug smuggling, attends her appeal hearing at the Moscow Regional Court on December 19, 2019. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP)

An Israeli-American jailed in Russia on drug charges will file another appeal, her mother said on Tuesday.

Naama Issachar, who has been held by Russia since some 10 grams of marijuana were found in her luggage during a layover in Moscow in April, lost an appeal last week against her 7.5 year prison sentence.

“I won’t give up, even if we don’t believe in the [Russian] legal system. If I don’t appeal it, it’s as if I’m admitting guilt,” Yaffa Issachar quoted her daughter as having said, during an interview with Channel 12 news.

In a Facebook post describing her Tuesday visit to the Moscow prison where Naama is being held, Yaffa said that her daughter wants to appeal to the cassation court — “one court higher than the last — because she refuses to believe that this is her fate, and rightfully so.”

Yaffa also wrote that “ten days after [last week’s] sentencing she can become a valid prisoner in a long term prison and it can be anywhere in Russia.”

Channel 12 speculated that Naama could find herself moved to an isolated prison where conditions are far worse.

Besides seeking an appeal with a higher-level court, Issachar’s family is also considering turning to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, according to the network, which could direct more international attention to the case.

During last Thursday’s hearing at a Russian district court, Naama told the judges that she not only “had no intention” of bringing drugs into Russia, but stressed that she “had not even passed the customs control” when she was stopped.

Issachar told the appeal hearing that she did not know what was written in the confession she had signed because it was in Russian and there was no translator present.

Illustrative: Supporters call for the release of Naama Issachar, an Israeli-American woman imprisoned in Russia for drug offenses, at a rally at Habima Square in Tel Aviv on October 19, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The judges discussed the decision for roughly 20 minutes and ruled against the appeal in a one-sentence statement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of the hearing told supporters at a rally that he would bring Issachar back, but on Wednesday, his spokesperson tried to tamp down the expectations, saying it would take time.

Israeli officials have reportedly speculated that Issachar’s release will come from diplomatic efforts rather than in the courtroom, and will require a pardon that can only be granted by Russian President Valdimir Putin.

Earlier this month, Netanyahu discussed Issachar’s case with Putin when the two spoke about security issues in the Middle East. Putin is slated to visit Israel in January for events marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Jerusalem.

Issachar was sentenced in October for drug smuggling after authorities in April found nine grams of marijuana in her luggage before she boarded a connecting flight on her way from India to Israel. She had not planned to enter Russia during the layover.

The amount generally gets a slap on the wrist in Russia, and Israelis have alleged that the long sentence was politically motivated.

US Israeli backpacker Naama Issachar’s mother Yaffa Issachar, left, and sister Liad Goldberg wait for Issachar’s appeal hearing in a courtroom in Moscow, Russia, December 19, 2019. (Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr./AP)

Russia had tried exchanging Issachar for Russian hacker Aleksey Burkov, but its advances were turned down by Israeli officials, who said they feared setting a precedent. Israel then extradited Burkov as scheduled to the United States, where he was wanted on embezzlement charges for a credit card scheme that allegedly stole millions of dollars from American consumers.

On Thursday, a Russian delegation arrived in Israel to discuss travel arrangements between the two countries. The Foreign Ministry confirmed the arrival of the delegation for an annual meeting and said that the sides would be discussing “consular matters.”

The visit came on the backdrop of Russia’s twice detaining of dozens of Israeli tourists and business people at a Moscow airport for hours, in what was reportedly a message to Jerusalem over Israel’s barring of thousands of Russian citizens at Ben Gurion Airport. The sides were said to have solved the matter, but Hebrew media reported that another group of Israeli tourists were briefly held up in Moscow on Tuesday.

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