Family of Israeli Woman Jailed in Russia Petitions Top Court Not to Extradite Russian Hacker to U.S.

Petition charges that Russia has turned Naama Issachar into a bargaining chip in its effort to release Alexey Burkov, who is wanted in the U.S. for cyber crimes

Israelis demonstrate to release 25-year-old Naama Issachar, who is jailed in Russia on drug charges, Tel Aviv, October 2019.
Meged Gozani

The family of an Israeli woman jailed in Russia on drug charges petitioned Thursday the High Court of Justice to prevent the extradition of a Russian hacker to the United States.

Naama Issachar, 25, was sentenced in October to seven-and-a-half years’ imprisonment for smuggling 9.6 grams of hashish into Russia. The drug was found by a sniffer dog in her luggage as it was being transferred between flights, during a stop-by in Moscow between India and Israel.  

Israel had refused a deal proposed by Russia to free Issachar in exchange for the release of Russian hacker Alexey Burkov, who is currently being held in Israel, to the United States. Burkov is wanted by the U.S. for suspected cyber crimes. On October 30, Israeli Justice Minister Amir Ohana signed the order to extradite him.

The petition filed by the family's attorneys says that since Moscow has made Issachar its bargaining chip in its efforts to return Burkov to Russia, the order to extradite him to the United States is "sealing her fate." The attorneys are offering two alternatives to extraditing the Russian hacker — granting Moscow's request to extradite Burkov to Russia or delaying his extradition to the U.S. until Issachar is released from Russian custody.

The court ruled that the state has until Sunday noon to respond to the petition, and that Burkov is not to be extradited to the U.S. until a decision is made on the matter.  

The lawyers added that Ohana expressed his explicit stance that Issachar received a disproportionate sentence and that she is held captive since she has both both Israeli and American citizenship.

While Burkov will be extradited to the U.S., they added, Issachar "is left in prison with no way out, and therefore the extradition is patently unjust."

Furthermore, the attorneys noted that "new circumstance preventing the extradition were created," and since the High Court ruled in August that Burkov could be also extradite to Russia, "it has the authority to conduct a judicial review over the justice minister's decision [to extradite Burkov to the U.S.].

"The authority to choose not to extradite [Burkov to the U.S] turns into an obligatory authority," the attorneys added.

The Issachar family expressed hope that "the High Court justices will carefully listen to Naama's request, who is held hostage for seven months, and assist as much as possible to immediately free her from the hell she is in."

Ohana told reports on Wednesday that the Israeli government is taking unprecedented action in other cases of Israelis imprisoned in other countries, "and we hope these efforts will come to fruition." But he added that tying Issachar's fate to Burkov's could have consequences.

"I wouldn't make this connection between [Issachar] and Burkov, because if we make this connection, it would put every Israeli in the world at risk," Ohana said.

Israeli sources assess that Moscow will not accept Israel's decision to extradite Burkov to the U.S., but argue that Jerusalem has no other choice in light of current circumstances.