Hundreds of Israelis protest Naama Issachar's arrest in Tel Aviv

Issachar was arrested in April with 9.5 grams of cannabis in her checked luggage in Russia and was sentenced to a whopping seven and a half years in prison.

Thousands protest in Habima Square, Tel Aviv, against the arrest of Naama Issachar in Russia.  (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
Thousands protest in Habima Square, Tel Aviv, against the arrest of Naama Issachar in Russia.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
“People’s lives are not card games,” cried out hundreds of demonstrators who flocked to Habimah Square in Tel Aviv on Saturday night to protest the arrest of Naama Issachar in Russia for possession of cannabis on her connection flight from India to Israel.
The protest was attended by numerous friends of Issachar, who called for her immediate release. Signs around the square read, “Where are you when we need you,” and “Justice for Naama.”
Issachar was arrested in April with 9.5 grams of cannabis in her checked luggage in Russia and was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison, which many considered vastly disproportionate and a political attempt to have Russian hacker Alexei Burkov, who was arrested in Israel in 2015, returned instead of him being extradited to the US.
“Ten years ago, Naama and I made aliyah at the same time,” Keren, a childhood friend of Issachar, said.
“We promised each other that we’d celebrate a decade of living in Israel together. My heart is broken. I came here to show you that this is a gathering of family, of friends and of citizens concerned by the fact that our Naama became a bargaining chip in a political game: a citizen like all others is being held hostage in a Russian jail for half a year – 193 days.”

“A story like this, in which, unrelated to what you did, you are disproportionately punished, is the fear of every one of us,” said Issachar’s cousin, Gal.
“Being in such a state of distress and helplessness after not hurting anyone, not putting anyone at risk: it’s scary, especially when it’s in a foreign country, in a foreign language, far from Mom, Dad, from good friends. Alone. It’s a tremendous fear. Naama has been living within this horror story for half a year. She doesn’t know that we are here at this very moment.”
Tatiana and Natalia Burkova, the mother and sister of Burkov, spoke on Channel 13 and directed their message at Yafa Issachar, Issachar's mother, saying that she must hold tight and ask Justice Minister Amir Ohana to help them return Burkov to Russia through a prisoner deal.
“We want to ask the justice minister to have mercy,” said Burkov’s sister. “Alexei’s fate lies in his hands. Alexei is ill, he has a serious chronic illness which requires constant follow-ups and treatment.”

Maariv contributed to this report.