A Russian court sentenced a US-Israeli woman to seven and a half years in jail for drug offenses on Friday, a ruling Israel condemned as disproportionate and which her family said Moscow had linked to the fate of a Russian citizen detained in Israel.
Na’ama Issachar, 25, was arrested in April while in transit in a Moscow airport, en route from India to Israel, and accused of carrying nine grams of cannabis, her family said. Russian authorities charged her with drug smuggling.
Prior to her sentencing Friday, Israel had rejected a request by Moscow to swap her for a Russian hacker, Aleksey Burkov, arrested in 2015 while he was visiting Israel.
According to Russian news agency RT, the US had issued an Interpol warrant for him on allegations of cyber attacks and computer fraud. Both Burkov and Issachar have denied the charges against them.
Issachar’s uncle, Israel Cohen, described his niece as “a hostage, abducted in order to bargain for a Russian hacker.”
“As a mere (cannabis) possessor she was not in his (Burkov’s) league, so they (Russian authorities) shifted to charges of smuggling and trafficking in order to raise her value,” Cohen told Reuters.
Asked to respond to the allegation, a spokesman for Russia’s embassy in Israel said the Foreign Ministry in Moscow does not interfere in Russian judicial affairs. According to The Moscow Times newspaper, Russian authorities consider possession of more than six grams of cannabis a criminal offense.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said it took a very negative view of the verdict.
“This is a disproportionately heavy punishment to be handed out to an Israeli young woman with no criminal record, who was on a transfer flight at the Moscow airport on her way to Israel,” the ministry said.
Unfortunately, Russia has not listened to “Israel’s pleadings” when it comes to taking these circumstances into account, the ministry added.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has taken the case on personally, his office said on Friday.
“The prime minister discussed this issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his September 12 visit to Sochi and raised the issue again in their telephone conversation earlier this week,” the PMO said. After that meeting, Netanyahu telephoned Issachar’s mother and updated her on the situation.
“Also, the authorities in Israel have been active regarding Issachar throughout her detention,” the PMO said. “Israel has delivered a clear message: The punishment being demanded by the Russian prosecutor is disproportionate and does not fit the nature of the offense being attributed to Issachar.”
“Prime Minister Netanyahu requested a commuting of the sentence and an easing of the terms of Na’ama’s detention,” the office added. “To our regret, the Russian prosecution has not yet accepted to these requests.”
“Judicial authorities in Israel have made it unequivocally clear that there is no possibility of preventing the extradition of Burkov following the Supreme Court ruling that he is subject to extradition,” the PMO said.
It added that Netanyahu and the State of Israel would do everything possible to secure Issachar’s release.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu deeply appreciates President Putin’s willingness to devote time to the issue and hopes that effort will bear fruit,” the PMO said.
Netanyahu called Issachar’s mother again on Friday after the verdict was handed out, according to Channel 12. He asked the mother to strengthen her daughter and to let her know that he is making an effort to move things along.
Issachar’s mother told Channel 12 from Russia, “I am begging Netanyahu to get her out of there. She won’t be able to hold out for very long. I do not know.”
“She is not held in normal conditions,” said Issachar’s mother, Yafa, adding that her daughter has no access to a telephone and may not receive letters.
Yafa Issachar told Channel 12 from Russia that she had told her daughter that this has nothing to do with her, and is about the relations between Israel and Russia.