Naama Issachar 7-year prison sentence stands after appeal rejected

Issachar was sentenced to over seven years in prison for allegedly trying to smuggle less than 10 grams of cannabis, though she was only in Russia on a stopover on the way from India to Israel.

Yaffa and Naama Issachar (photo credit: Courtesy)
Yaffa and Naama Issachar
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A Russian court rejected American-Israeli Naama Issachar’s appeal on Thursday of her seven-year sentence on charges of smuggling drugs.
Issachar was sentenced to more than seven years in prison for allegedly trying to smuggle 9.5 grams of cannabis, though she was only in Russia on a stopover on the way from India to Israel and did not have access to the luggage in which the drugs were found. Her lawyers have said the sentence is much harsher than the usual charges for such an amount of narcotics.
There are ongoing efforts at the highest levels of the Israeli government to secure her release before Russian President Vladimir Putin comes to Israel for the World Holocaust Forum on January 23, and a diplomatic source said it was far from certain that Putin will agree to grant Issachar clemency.
When the ruling was announced, Issachar burst into tears, and her mother, Yaffa Issachar shouted to her to stay strong.
“There is no justice; this Russia,” the elder Issachar told a journalist from Ynet in the courtroom.
The Issachar family released a statement saying they are angry about the decision.
“Everyone saw the farce that took place with Naama isolated in a glass cell,” they said. “Naama does not need to carry all the interests and disputes between Israel and Russia on her shoulders. We are asking the prime minister to fulfil his promise.”
The family called for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to tell Putin he is not welcome in Israel unless Naama is freed.
Netanyahu called Yaffa Issachar and said “despite the disappointment in the court’s decision, I am not giving up. I will continue acting in every way to bring Naama home.”
During the hearing, Issachar said: “I didn’t know that I signed a confession,” explaining when she was asked to sign it, there was no translator present and she didn’t understand it. “I didn’t buy hashish and I didn’t put it in my bag. I said several times that it is not mine… No one asked if the drugs are mine during the investigation or after.”
“I didn’t go through passport control and I didn’t have access to my luggage. I was stopped when I was on my way home to Tel Aviv... All the evidence shows that I am innocent,” she added.
Issachar pointed out that she did not intend to enter Russia – she was in the airport for a stopover – and therefore she could not have meant to smuggle drugs into the country.
“I beg the judges to understand that I am in prison for almost nine months, isolated from people who speak my language. This conviction will ruin my life over a crime I did not commit,” she said.
Issachar spoke from inside a glass box and was not permitted to communicate with her mother and sister, who attended the trial.
Issachar’s lawyer Vadim Kluvgant said the ruling is based on an illegal coerced confession and the court was quoting things Issachar did not say.
The lawyer brought new evidence, showing that the English translation of the document she was given did not reflect the Russian text and the translation of Issachar’s words into Russian was faulty.
Kluvgant said “many people are looking for a political reason [for Issachar’s predicament]. It makes sense, because there is no legal reason. This is a young girl who is already here for a long time. She must be freed to go home.”
The judges rejected the claim.
Ahead of the hearing, Issachar’s mother said she “had a difficult night, but I am still optimistic and believe Naama will be freed today... at the end of the hearing.
“I hope the judges will bring justice to light. We will celebrate Hanukkah together and light the first candle in Israel” on Sunday, she said.
Earlier, Foreign Minister Israel Katz told KAN Bet he hopes Issachar will be returned home before Putin visits Israel on January 23.
Katz referred to Netanyahu’s declaration at a Likud Party event earlier this week he will bring Issachar home: “He immediately clarified that he does not give Putin instructions.”
On Wednesday night, sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said negotiations are ongoing and will take time.
Also Thursday, Israeli and Russian diplomats met at the Foreign Ministry to discuss consular matters in an annual, pre-planned dialogue. Gary Koren, the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director-general for Eurasia, and head of the Consular Department Stella Rapp took part in the meeting, as did Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director-general of the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority. The Russian delegation was led by its Foreign Ministry’s director of the Consular Department Ivan Volynkin.
Issachar was on the agenda for the meeting, though the real negotiations for her release are being run from the Prime Minister’s Office, as well as the matter of 46 Israelis, including children, who were detained at a Moscow airport for six hours on Wednesday. This came after eight Israeli businessmen were detained overnight in a Russian airport last week.
The Foreign Ministry spokesman said the meeting was positive and that “the two sides agreed that they should do everything not to hurt the exchange of tourists and business ties between the countries.”
Israel and Russia also agreed to steps meant to ensure the visa-waiver program between the countries, and the Russian side agreed to improve its communications with Israel on consular matters.
The Foreign Ministry officials also asked that Issachar’s relatives be able to visit her more often.
The Russian Embassy said in response to the Israelis being detained on Wednesday that more than 5,700 Russian tourists were not allowed into Israel since the beginning of 2019, averaging 20 per day, most of whom, the embassy argued, do not fit the profile of someone who would illegally stay in Israel to work.