Free Naama

Naama should be sent home – immediately.

Naama Issachar (photo credit: MAARIV)
Naama Issachar
(photo credit: MAARIV)
Naama Issachar has been in a Russian prison for six months for what should be a minor offense. The 26-year-old dual citizen of the US and Israel was found to have 9.5 grams of marijuana in her luggage in a Moscow airport, en route from India to Israel.
That is an illegal action – but the punishment does not fit the crime.
Issachar had only a small amount of the drug, clearly meant for personal use and not for dealing – in Israel, personal use can be claimed for possession of up to 15 grams. And the fact that she could not have accessed it while on the stopover meant nothing.
Issachar was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison on charges of smuggling. Issachar’s Russian lawyer said the amount she had in her luggage would normally be punished with a month’s detention and a fine.
Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested that Issachar’s sentence be commuted and the terms of her current detention be eased.
President Reuven Rivlin also wrote a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The punishment being demanded by the Russian prosecutor is disproportionate and does not fit the nature of the offense being attributed to Issachar,” said a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.
But that’s because, in Putin’s Russia, the courts are not looking to do justice: They’re looking to settle scores.
Issachar was unwittingly caught in a diplomatic imbroglio between Russia, the US and Israel. Her poor judgment was convenient for Moscow, which was looking for a way to pressure Israel.
After Issachar’s charges were changed from possession for personal use to smuggling, her mother began receiving e-mails and messages from strangers saying that Issachar would only be released if Israel extradited Aleksey Burkov to Russia, rather than to the US.
Burkov is wanted in the US for hacking and credit card fraud, and has been in prison in Israel since 2015 while the courts handle an American extradition request.
Moscow has also demanded Burkov’s extradition, admitting that he’s suspected of committing fraud, but has not been indicted. Justice Minister Amir Ohana has said that the evidence Russia provided was “rather thin in terms of material” compared to the “much more established” American request.
Russia has hinted at a prisoner swap between Burkov and Issachar, which would be unprecedented. Prisoner swaps are for spies (Burkov has denied being connected to Russian intelligence agencies) or prisoners of war, not in criminal cases.
Netanyahu made this clear in his statement, explaining that, “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.”
Still, a senior official involved in the case told The Jerusalem Post this week that Russians will use any excuse to arrest Israelis in order to try to bring about such a deal.
Meanwhile, Issachar is rotting in prison. Her mother, Yaffa Issachar, was permitted to visit her in prison on Monday, which was Issachar’s Hebrew birthday, but said her conditions have worsened. Her sister, Liad Issachar, told the Post that Issachar is losing hope, and is suffering mentally and emotionally from the ordeal.
As Yaffa Issachar wrote in an open letter to Putin: “Naama cannot be a bargaining chip for a person who may or may not have committed security offenses. That is not a fair trade. I am sure you wouldn’t want history to judge you as the leader standing behind a show trial.”
Naama Issachar has suffered enough. Her continued detention on a minor offense is an injustice, unfairly saddling her with the consequences of someone else’s crime and holding her hostage in the diplomatic wrangling between Russia and the US. After this six-month ordeal, she should no longer be used as a pawn in international relations. She has done nothing to deserve this cruel fate.
Naama should be sent home – immediately.