US-Israeli Woman Sentenced to 7.5 Years in Russian Prison Over 9 Grams of Pot
Israel believes Russia imposed the harshest possible sentence in order to use the woman as a bartering chip to convince the country to release a Russian prisoner accused of embezzlement.
Published on October 11, 2019

A Russian court has sentenced a US-Israeli woman to serve seven and a half years in jail on drug possession and smuggling charges. Based on the severity of the sentence, one might assume that the woman was caught trying to smuggle massive quantities of cocaine into the country, but in fact she was caught with less than a half-ounce of weed.

Back in April, Russian police detained Naama Issachar, a 25-year-old with dual Israeli/US citizenship, after discovering 9.6 grams of cannabis in her bag. The young woman was traveling from New Delhi to Tel Aviv, and was only making a layover in Russia. After being caught, Issachar admitted to owning the weed, but pleaded not guilty to the drug smuggling charge.

A simple drug possession charge would only result in a jail sentence of several months. But prosecutors pressed the drug smuggling charge, demanding a sentence of eight years. This Friday, the court agreed to follow the prosecutors' guidance. Issachar, who has already been in prison for the past six months, was sentenced to another seven-and-a-half years in jail.

In a statement, Israel's Foreign Ministry said that it "gravely views the verdict” and condemns the “substantial and disproportionate” sentence given to “a young Israeli woman with no criminal record,” Haaretz reports. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed that he personally discussed Issachar's case with Russian President Vladimir Putin. After news of the sentencing broke, Netanyahu said that he “highly appreciates President Putin’s willingness to dedicate time to the matter and hopes the efforts will bear fruit.”

Israeli officials believe that Issachar was specifically targeted by Russia due to her dual citizenship. Russian officials reached out to Israel to offer a prisoner swap, in which Issachar would be set free if Israel released Aleskey Burkov, a Russian IT specialist who was arrested in 2016 at the request of Interpol. Unlike Issachar, Burkov was arrested for serious crimes, having allegedly fronted a credit card scam that stole millions of dollars from American consumers.

Burkov is currently in the process of being extradited to the US to face embezzlement charges. Netanyahu and Putin reportedly discussed a prisoner exchange deal, but Israel ultimately decided against it, as the extradition process had already begun. “Authorities in Israel told me that the deal is not on the table,” said Issachar’s mother, Yaffa, to Haaretz.

Now that the deal is off the table, it is unclear whether Issachar will have to spend the next eight years of her life in a Russian prison. As of now, it looks like she does. However, Netanyahu's office said that they will "continue to exert every effort to free [her] and return her to her family," The Moscow Times reports.

Issachar is not the only tourist to have been jailed for bringing weed into a Russian airport. In September, Russian police arrested an American college student for bringing a small amount of medical marijuana into the country. The young woman has not yet been sentenced, but she remains detained in prison until the trial date.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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