Mother of Israeli jailed in Russia barred from visiting daughter

Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem says it is reaching out to Russian officials after Yaffa Issachar turned away at prison where Naama Issachar is being held

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)

Israel’s Foreign Ministry says it has turned to Russian officials after the mother of an Israeli woman jailed on drug charges by Moscow was prevented from visiting her daughter in prison on Tuesday.

Yaffa Issachar was unable to see her daughter Naama after Russian authorities said a consular visit last week had used up her allotted visits of twice a month, according to Hebrew media reports.

Yaffa said Tuesday that she had received a dispensation from a Russian judge a day earlier to see her daughter. Nevertheless, the visit was prohibited.

According to the Walla news site, the mother is currently in the Moscow apartment where she has been staying, after being turned away at the jail together with the Israeli consul.

Issachar, 26, was arrested in April after some 10 grams of marijuana were found in her bag during a stopover in Moscow. She was flying from India to Israel, and at no point intended to exit the airport in Russia.

Yaffa Issachar speaks to Channel 12 news, October 11, 2019 (Channel 12 screenshot)

Earlier this month, she was sentenced by a Russian court to 7.5 years in prison for drug smuggling, a ruling that sparked an outcry in Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this month sent a formal request to Russian President Vladimir Putin asking that Issachar be pardoned. Moscow has said the Russian leader would consider the request.

According to a report and interview with Naama in Russian media this week, Issachar met with human right activists last Tuesday, who said she was in good health, learning Russian and practicing yoga with her fellow inmates. Russian media on Wednesday also released a photograph of Naama meeting the activists. Representatives of the Issachar family in Israel, however, criticized the interview, telling Israel’s Channel 12 news that it appeared to be staged.

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

“They have an interest in making it look like she’s being treated well,” they were quoted as telling the Israeli broadcaster.

Issachar told the rights activists that prison authorities were not able to coordinate a visit by a rabbi, and that she had requested to be allowed to receive phone calls from home, according to the report. “We filed a petition with the court to let me call my mother and sister, but it has not yet been considered,” she was quoted as saying.

Issachar then said she was being treated well.

“They feed well, they give me the medicines that are needed. Even vitamins were given out,” she said.

Jailed Israeli backpacker Naama Issachar (L) meets Daniil Lomakin (R), a member of the Public Observation Commission of the Moscow Region at the Novo Grishino prison, outside Moscow, on October 23, 2019. (FSIN)

Issachar said she was grateful for all the public support, and was hopeful it would help secure her release. “I really want to get home. I hope that such publicity will help,” she said.

The visit was organized by the Public Observation Commission, an organization that oversees conditions in Russian prisons.

The visit came a day after Netanyahu and Putin discussed a potential pardon for Issachar. The October 21 telephone call between Netanyahu and Putin came on the Israeli leader’s 70th birthday.

Naama Issachar has been detained in or near Moscow since April. (Naama Issachar/Instagram via JTA)

An official statement from the Kremlin about the phone call did not mention Issachar, saying the two leaders discussed bilateral issues and Syria. However, an aide to Putin was quoted by Interfax confirming that Issachar’s case was discussed, and the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem later confirmed that the issue was talked about during the call.

Israeli officials reportedly believe Moscow is using Issachar, who also holds American citizenship, as leverage to ensure the return of Alexey Burkov, an IT specialist set to be extradited by Israel to the US, where he is wanted on embezzlement charges. Reports in the Hebrew media have indicated Israeli officials think Burkov may be tied to Russian intelligence.

During a meeting earlier this month in Jerusalem with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Netanyahu discussed Issachar’s case and Burkov’s extradition, according to Hebrew media reports.

Aleksey Burkov during a court hearing in Israel (Channel 13 news)

A Foreign Ministry official told the Ynet news site earlier this month that Israel hopes Issachar will be released by the time of Putin’s planned visit to Jerusalem early next year.

Rallies were held in Tel Aviv and New York on October 19 calling for Issachar’s release.

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