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‘So degrading’: Israeli woman recalls detention in Belarus for cannabis possession

Maya Reiten, who was jailed over medical marijuana in her bag, says she lost track of time until she saw Hanukkah festivities on TV: ‘Each day I drew the candle… and blessed it’

Maya Reiten speaks to Channel 12 news in an interview aired on January 8, 2021. (Screen capture: Channel 12)
Maya Reiten speaks to Channel 12 news in an interview aired on January 8, 2021. (Screen capture: Channel 12)

An Israeli woman recently freed from jail in Belarus following her arrest for cannabis possession recalled the difficult conditions she spent in custody, in a television interview aired Saturday.

Maya Reiten, a lawyer, was arrested on November 4 after 2.5 grams of cannabis were found in her bag at the airport. Reiten, who has authorization to use medical marijuana in Israel, was released from detention late last month following efforts to free her that included appeals from Israeli leaders.

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

Now back home in Israel, Reiten — who says she did not remember the cannabis was in her bag — told Channel 12 news that she was punished by Belarusian authorities over a letter she wrote detailing the conditions she was being held in.

“They told me, ‘you’re complaining that you’re suffering here? No problem. There’s worse than this,'” she said, explaining that she was then sent to another facility notorious for the tough conditions there.

“It was so degrading what happened there,” she added.

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

Reiten said she lost track of time while being detained, before seeing footage of Hanukkah celebrations in Israel while watching TV.

“Suddenly I saw home, I smelled home,” she said. “I felt like the Jews, the Maccabees, who did everything secretly because they wanted to destroy their spirit.”

“So I drew a menorah and lit the candle, each day I drew the candle that we lit, and blessed it.”

Upon returning home, Reiten said she was in a state of “euphoria.”

“It was as if I repressed it, as if it didn’t happen,” she said of her time in Belarusian jail.

“But it’s noticeable in me. I don’t feel well,” she said, adding that she returned in poor physical condition.

Despite the ordeal, Reiten said, “I appreciate any place in which there is freedom.”

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