Russia Says Jailed Israeli Women Yet to Seek Pardon – in What Would Be a First

A member of Naama Issachar's legal team says 'the Russian president has never granted a pardon to a foreign national, but anything could happen'

Issachar’s mother, Yaffa, alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Jerusalem, January 23, 2020.
Ohad Zwigenberg

The release of Naama Issachar, the 26-year-old Israeli in prison on a drug conviction, has been delayed because she has not yet submitted a pardon request, a Kremlin spokesman said Friday – postponing what could be a Russian president’s first pardon of a foreigner.

The spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Issachar could not be released without submitting an official pardon request. She was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for drug smuggling after a small amount of hashish was found in her knapsack during a layover at a Moscow airport on her way home from India.

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Her Russian lawyer planned to meet with her Saturday to explain the pardon request, but the attorney, Vadim Klyuvgant, said the decision would be entirely up to her.

Issachar’s mother, Yaffa, spoke with her Friday for the first time since she met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Jerusalem on Thursday and asked him to pardon her daughter.

Another member of Issachar’s legal team, Alexei Kovalenko, told Haaretz that pardons are rarely granted in Russia. “To date, the Russian president has never granted a pardon to a foreign national,” he said. “Still, the whole process so far has been extremely unusual, so anything could happen.”

At his meeting with Yaffa Issachar on Thursday, Putin said that “everything will be okay.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also attended the meeting, and his aides said there had been “significant progress” in the negotiations for her release.

In remarks at the prime minister’s official residence Thursday, Putin said it was clear that Naama Issachar came from a good family. He added that he knew Netanyahu wanted a decision made, and this would be taken into account. He also said that Russia’s acting human rights commissioner had visited Issachar on Thursday.

But her mother is obviously very worried, Putin added, so I told her that “everything will be okay.”

Netanyahu said afterward that it was a good meeting and a moving one, and he thanked Putin for speaking with Yaffa Issachar. He then promised that it “wouldn’t be long” before Naama Issachar returned home.

Russia’s human rights commissioner visited Issachar on Thursday, accompanied by journalists who interviewed the jailed Israeli. In an interview broadcast on a Russian television channel, Issachar said she had watched Putin’s statement and believed his promise.

“When I saw my mother on television with such important people .... I was very excited when he [Putin] told my mother that everything will be okay with my wonderful family,” she said. “I’m still here, but I believe what he said. If he says everything will be okay, then it will.”

Another interview with Issachar was published Friday in the daily Moskovsky Komsomolets. In that article, she said she had not heard anything about the quid pro quos that, according to Israeli media reports, Israel plans to give Russia in exchange for her freedom. Asked what she intended to do after being released, she said her main goal right now was simply “to go home.”

Issachar is currently in a jail near Moscow, but because an appellate court rejected her appeal last month, she is due be transferred to a prison 200 kilometers (124 miles) from the city. Yaffa Issachar plans to fly to Moscow on Sunday morning.