Russian court delays hearing for jailed Israeli-American so she can attend

Judges accept request by lawyers for backpacker Naama Issachar, sentenced to 7-plus years for drug offense, that she be present during appeal rather than participate via video link

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

A Russian court on Thursday delayed a hearing on an appeal by an Israeli-American backpacker against her seven-year-plus prison sentence for a drug offense, and ruled that she should be allowed to attend the court session.

Naama Issachar, who has been held in Russia since April, was arrested after a small amount of marijuana was found in her luggage during a stopover in Moscow.

The appeal hearing began as scheduled but Issachar was not in the courtroom and only permitted to participate via a video linkup.

Her attorneys asked that the hearing be rescheduled so that Issachar, 26, can attend the proceedings in person.

The judge agreed to postpone the hearing to next week.

Issachar was sentenced in October to seven and a half years in prison 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 stopover.

The amount is within the legal limit for personal use in Israel. It generally gets a slap on the wrist in Russia, and Israelis have alleged that the long sentence was politically motivated.

Issachar’s Russian lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant said that the conviction was “full of flaws” and that Issachar is “being held hostage,” Ynet reported. Her defense team plans to base its appeal on the claim that Issachar was not planning to enter Russia and had no intention to commit a crime in the country.

Her mother Yaffa and sister Liat Goldberg were at the Moscow courthouse to attend the hearing.

“It’s important that Naama be here next time because she has an energy,” her mother told the media after the truncated hearing. “She can convince people and they will see what kind of person she is. It’s hard to see that through a screen, the translations are terrible.”

Before the hearing she said her daughter was concerned that she may not hear the courtroom translator or that the video link system may not work.

In addition to the appeal against her sentence, Issachar’s family is also hoping that diplomatic efforts may see her swiftly released.

“The question that gets asked and asked all the time is will there be political intervention,” Yaffa told the Walla website before the court session.

She said she was aware that there are contacts between Israeli and Russian officials about the matter but that she iwas not being given specific information.

Last week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed Issachar’s case with Russian President Vladimir Putin when the two spoke about security issues in the Middle East. Putin is slated to visit Israel in January.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting in Sochi, Russia, Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. (Shamil Zhumatov/Pool Photo via AP)

The phone call was the second in three weeks between the two leaders in which Netanyahu called on Putin to pardon Issachar.

The conversation came on the same day that Foreign Minister Israel Katz met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Rome and also raised the issue of Issachar.

Moscow has said the Russian leader would consider the request.

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 extradited Burkov to the United States, where he is wanted on embezzlement charges for a credit card scheme that allegedly stole millions of dollars from American consumers.

Naama Issachar and her mom Yaffa in a post to Issachar’s Instagram page in July 2018.

In November Yaffa Issachar asked Putin to pardon her daughter in a letter delivered through the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III.

In the message Yaffa wrote that she is pleading “with the heartache of a mother to pardon my daughter and return her to her family,” according to Maariv.

Putin is expected to join French President Emmanuel Macron in January at events to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Jerusalem, in what is expected to be the largest-ever gathering focused on combating anti-Semitism.

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