Russian Prison Blocks Mother From Visiting Israeli Jailed on Drug Charges

Moscow has sought a deal to release Na'ama Issachar in exchange for Russian hacker Aleksey Burkov, who is in prison in Israel awaiting extradition to the United States

Protesters seeking the release of Naama Issachar from a Russian prison, Tel Aviv, October 2019.
Meged Gozani

The mother of a young Israeli woman convicted of drug smuggling said Tuesday she was prevented from visiting her daughter in a Russian jail after the prison authorities said the Israeli consul’s visit last week had filled the visit quota for the time being.

Naama Issachar, 25, was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison after she was detained at a Moscow airport carrying 9.6 grams of hashish. Moscow, which later stiffened the charges to smuggling, has sought a deal to release Aleksey Burkov, who is in prison in Israel awaiting extradition to the United States, which suspects him of cybercrimes.

“I’m helpless and I can’t understand why they’re making things hard for Naama on a daily basis,” said Yaffa Issachar, who returned to her apartment in Moscow without seeing her daughter at the prison outside the capital.

“It’s abuse, and I’m asking Israel’s president, prime minister and national security adviser to end this abuse of Naama. Naama is paying a high price due to a diplomatic and legal decision by Israel that has nothing to do with her. She can’t be a hostage and a bargaining chip between countries.”

On Monday, a Russian court let Yaffa Issachar make a one-time visit, but Naama would not be allowed phone calls with her mother in Hebrew.

The Issachar family’s lawyer told Haaretz on Tuesday he hopes Yaffa will visit her daughter Friday; by then it will be November and her daughter is allowed up to two visits a month. He said he would appeal the decision to prohibit phone conversations in Hebrew, a move he said was illegal.

On Tuesday, attempts by Issachar’s attorneys and the deputy Israeli ambassador to change the prison authority’s decision failed; the Foreign Ministry said “the subject was immediately raised in diplomatic channels both in Jerusalem and in Moscow, along with the consular assistance.”

Yaffa Issachar met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat on Sunday in Jerusalem; Netanyahu said he was doing everything in his power to bring Naama back to Israel.

Last week Netanyahu spoke with Yaffa by phone and updated her on his discussions on the matter with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin have asked Putin for a pardon.

The younger Issachar was arrested on April 9 traveling from India to Israel after a sniffer dog identified hashish in her bag. Three days later she was charged with drug possession by a court in Khimki near Moscow.

On April 23 the prosecution stiffened the charge to smuggling. Issachar said she had bought the hashish in New Delhi and had no intention of bringing it into Russia.