'We have laws in Russia that need to be respected'

Israeli backpacker imprisoned in Russia formally asks Putin for a pardon

Naama Issachar was sentenced to 7.5 years after pot was found in her luggage; mother Yaffa, en route to Moscow: ‘We hope for the best’

Naama Issachar, sentenced to 7.5 years in Russia, in an undated photo (Courtesy)
Naama Issachar, sentenced to 7.5 years in Russia, in an undated photo (Courtesy)

The attorneys for an Israeli-American woman imprisoned in Russia on drug charges said Sunday she had formally submitted a pardon request to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Issachar, 27, was sentenced by Russia to 7.5 years in prison after nearly 10 grams of marijuana were found in her luggage during a layover in a Moscow airport in April. She has denied smuggling drugs, noting she had not sought to enter Russia during the layover on her way to Israel from India, and had no access to her luggage during her brief stay in the Russian airport.

Issachar’s mother met last week with Putin, who told her he will return her daughter home.

But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was impossible for Issachar to be granted a presidential pardon without her first submitting a formal request for one, the Reuters news agency reported.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with Yaffa Issachar, mother of Israeli citizen Naama Issachar who is jailed in Russia for a drugs offense in Jerusalem, Jan. 23, 2020 (Aleksey Nikolskyi, Sputnik Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

“We have laws in Russia that need to be respected,” Peskov said, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

After the Kremlin’s statement, Issachar’s attorneys visited her in prison for consultation. She decided to write a pardon request, which she did by her own hand, according to the Haaretz daily.

One of her attorneys, Alexei Koblenko, told the daily that no Russian president has ever granted a pardon to a foreign-citizen convict.

“Naama decided to appeal to the president of the federation [Putin] to request her pardon and release, and she submitted [the request] in handwriting, as required by the prison authorities,” the attorneys said in a letter accompanying Issachar’s pardon request, according to Hebrew-language media.

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

“Naama, her family and her attorneys hope for a swift decision by the president of Russia, in keeping with his constitutional powers, for her pardon and release,” the attorneys wrote.

As Issachar was submitting her pardon request, her mother, Yaffa, who boarded a plane to Russia Sunday morning, told Israeli media, “We still don’t know anything about the time frame. We hope for the best, and that it happens as fast as possible.”

Putin arrived in Israel last Thursday for a one-day visit to attend the World Holocaust Forum, which this year marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp by holding a major international event.

During his visit, Putin met Yaffa Issachar, and said in a press statement after the meeting that “everything will be all right.”

He said that it was clear to him from meeting Yaffa Issachar that her daughter comes from a “good, decent family.”

Yaffa Issachar told Israeli reporters Thursday she was smiling after the Jerusalem meeting because “Putin told me: ‘I’ll bring the girl home.’ Really. Let’s wait and see, there is no date for the release.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, smile as Yaffa Issachar, second left, the mother of Naama Issachar, who is imprisoned in Russia, shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020, ahead of the World Holocaust Forum. (Heidi Levine/Pool/AFP)

Issachar has become a cause celebre in Israel, where her arrest and sentence are largely viewed as politically motivated. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised the family to work for her release and has expressed hopes for securing a pardon.

According to Hebrew media reports, Russia has asked Israel to transfer a piece of Russian Orthodox Church property near the Old City of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre to the Kremlin, as a goodwill gesture ahead of Issachar’s release.

Russia has been demanding Israel hand over rights to Alexander’s Courtyard for over a decade, but Justice Ministry officials along with two senior Likud lawmakers who are immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Yuli Edelstein and Ze’ev Elkin, have opposed the measure.

Aleksey Burkov, a Russian hacker slated for extradition to the United States, arrives for a hearing at the High Court of Justice in Jerusalem on November 3, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Thursday, a Russian national whose extradition from Israel to the US was believed to be linked to Isaachar’s fate, pleaded guilty to running a website that helped people commit more than $20 million in credit card fraud.

Aleksey Burkov, 29, of St. Petersburg, Russia, entered the plea to charges including fraud and money laundering in a federal court in Virginia.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed