Russian Court Rejects Israeli’s Appeal in Drug Trial

A Russian court rejected Thursday the appeal of an Israeli woman jailed in the country following her conviction of drug possession, in a high-profile case that has strained relations between the two countries.

Naama Issachar, 25, is serving a seven-and-a-half-year prison term for possession of 9.6 grams of hashish while changing planes at a Russian airport. Her lawyers said they were waiting to receive the full verdict before deciding on their next steps. They still have two chances to file an appeal: with an appellate court, and with Russia's Supreme Court. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Issaachar's mother after news of the verdict, telling her that he would not give up on securing her release. "I will continue to work in every way to bring Naama home," he said. 

Naama Issachar, jailed for drug smuggling, attends her appeal hearing at the Moscow Regional Court, December 19, 2019.AFP

Reacting to the verdict, Issachar's family said they were angry, referred to the trial as a "farce," and called on Netanyahu to fulfill his promise to get her released. "Naama does not need to carry all the interests and disagreements between Israel and Russia on her shoulders," the family said. "We ask the prime minister, fulfill your commitments. Don't permit a situation in which Putin lands in Israel for a state ceremony without Naama coming home." Issachar's lawyers meanwhile said the trial had been unfair and called the verdict "strange."

Seeking to secure Issachar's release, the Foreign Ministry is placing its hopes on diplomatic channels. Israel has submitted an official request to pardon her, and diplomatic sources told Haaretz that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Israel, which is slated for next month, is linked to the request. Netanyahu said at an election campaign event on Tuesday that he is “bringing Naama Issachar home.” But on Wednesday, people close to the prime minister clarified that he "meant to say that he was committed to bringing her home, it will take time."

Naama’s mother, Yaffa Isaachar, at her daughter’s hearing, Moscow, Russia, December 19, 2019. AFP

Speaking through a translator on Thursday, Issachar testified that the hashish did not belong to her and that she had not put it in her bag. She said she had told her interrogators that the drugs did not belong to her, but that they ignored her statement, provided without a translator or lawyer. She also said that she was pressured to sign a Russian-language document in which she only wrote where she had come from.

Issachar told the court that she was never asked whether the drugs were hers and that she was not allowed to finish when she tried to say she had nothing to do with them.