Netanyahu Officially Asks Putin to Pardon Israeli Convicted of Minor Drug Charge

Naama Issachar was arrested and sentenced to seven and a half years in prison after she was caught in Moscow airport with 9.6 grams of hasish ■ Russia previously proffered to swap Issachar for hacker imprisoned in Israel at request of U.S.

Naama Issachar and her mother Yaffa, undated
Courtesy of the family

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has delivered on Tuesday a formal request to Russian President Vladimir Putin to pardon a 25-year-old Israeli woman convicted of smuggling 9.6 grams of hashish and sentenced to seven and a half years behind bars. 

The official request was made on his behalf, as well as President Reuven Rivlin, to have Naama Issachar released and returned to Israel.

Israel had previously refused a prisoner swap deal suggested by Russia, according to which Russian hacker Aleksey Burkov - who is being held in the country at the request of Washington, who seeks his extradition - would be freed in exchange for Issachar.

On Tuesday, after a situation assessment by the Israel Prison Service, Burkov was moved to special cellblock to ensure his safety, despite no indication that other inmates intended to hurt him or that he would harm himself.

Burkov has said in an interview conducted from Israeli prison that he has no ties to Russian intelligence and that Moscow is fighting for his release because "Russians never leave fellow Russians behind."

Speaking to Israel's Channel 13 News in an interview aired Saturday evening, the Russian hacker said that "myself and Naama are being held in jail as a result of political games."

The IPS sought to hold a disciplinary proceeding against Burkov for giving interviews to Israeli news outlets against prison protocols, but decided not to do so, fearing it would influence Issachar's detention conditions, Haaretz has learned.

Moreover, concerns have been mounting that Russia-Israel relations would be damaged in light of the media buzz revolving the affair in the past few days.

At this point, it remains unclear when Burkov will be extradited to the United States.  

In response, the IPS said: "The detainee was interviewed and warned by the prison commander. He was also given specific phone numbers to which he can call. During the situation assessment we held, the entirety of relevant materials was examined and decisions were taken accordingly."

On Friday, a Russian court sentenced Naama to prison after she was held in detention for six months. "I support Issachar and her family, my family has been in the same situation for the last four years," Burkov said.

"We have to be optimistic. I really hope that the swap deal will come through, it will pay off for both countries and bring myself and Issachar home," he added. "I am sure that this can be done quickly," he said.

On Monday, Issachar's attroney filed an appeal against her sentence, and a court hearing is expected later this week.