Netanyahu Asks Putin Again to Release Israeli Jailed in Russia Over Drug Charges

Leaders' phone call comes days after court rejected Naama Issachar's appeal in politically charged case

Vladimir Putin and Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands at an event at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, Russia, January 29, 2018.
Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday to push for the release of an Israeli jailed in Moscow over drug charges, a high-profile case that has strained relations between the two countries.

In a phone call, the two leaders also discussed the situation in Iran and Syria, according to a statement issued by Netanyahu's office.

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This is not the first time Netanyahu requested Putin to pardon 25-year-old Naama Issachar, whose family as well as some Israeli officials argue political reasons, rather than purely legal ones, led to a hefty seven-and-a-half-year sentence for possession of 9.6 grams of hashish during a layover at a Russian airport.

Last week, a Russian court rejected Issachar's appeal against her verdict, prompting a harsh response from her family, who called on Netanyahu to fulfill his promise to get her released. The Israeli leader told Issachar's mother that he would "continue to work in every way to bring Naama home."

Speaking through a translator in last week's hearing, Issachar testified that the hashish did not belong to her and that she had not put it in her bag. She claimed to have told this to interrogators, but that they ignored her statement, which she 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.

Israelis hold signs calling for the release of Naama Issachar during a demonstration In Tel Aviv, October 19, 2019.
Sebastian Scheiner/AP

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. 

Her attorneys asked the court to acquit her, claiming she had not committed any crime, that the legal process was flawed and violated her rights and that the sentence was extremely harsh in light of the offences attributed to her.

Issachar and her legal team still have two chances to file an appeal: with an appellate court, and with Russia's Supreme Court.

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 Putin’s visit to Israel, which is slated for next month, is linked to the request.