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Israeli freed by Belarus after over a month in prison for medical cannabis in bag

Maya Reiten was held over 2.5 grams of medical marijuana; president, foreign and finance ministers personally appealed for her release

Israeli Maya Reiten and her brother after her release from prison in Belarus, December 30, 2021 (courtesy)
Israeli Maya Reiten and her brother after her release from prison in Belarus, December 30, 2021 (courtesy)

An Israeli woman has been freed from custody in Belarus, where she was arrested for cannabis possession last month, and is on her way to Israel, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman said in a statement Thursday.

The woman, Maya Reiten, was arrested on November 4 at the airport in Minsk with 2.5 grams of cannabis in her bag.

Reiten, a lawyer, has authorization to use medical cannabis in Israel. Relatives said the drugs must have been in her bag by mistake.

Efforts to free her involved personal appeals by President Isaac Herzog, Lapid and Liberman to authorities in Belarus.

In the statement, Lapid thanked Herzog, Liberman, and all those in the Foreign Ministry involved in efforts to bring Reiten back, in Israel and abroad.

He said he had spoken with Reiten and her family to celebrate her return.

“Maya Reiten was released from prison in Belarus and is making her way to Israel with her brother. A special thanks to the president for his efforts and actions to return Maya to Israel,” Lapid said.

In November, relatives of Reiten said she was being held in very difficult conditions. In a letter to her family, Reiten said she did not know if she would last long in Belarusian prison and implored Israeli officials to intervene on her behalf.

Held in the notorious Pishchalauski Castle prison, known as the country’s main pre-trial detention center and where arrested political activists are detained, Reiten wrote in her letter that her cell was just 12 square meters (129 square feet) in size and she shared it with three other women who only spoke Russian. She was not allowed out of her cell, except for one and a half hours in the cold outside.

Upon her arrest, she reportedly stressed to Belarussian authorities that the marijuana in her possession was licensed by the Health Ministry and tried to show documents to prove her assertion, but was ignored. She suffers from several unspecified conditions, according to a letter from fellow lawyers sent to Israeli officials on her behalf.

Under Belarussian law, she could have faced three to five years in prison.

In January 2020, Russian authorities agreed to release an Israeli-American traveler who had been caught with nine grams of marijuana in her luggage as she waited for a connecting flight, following an intense diplomatic and media campaign.

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