Rivlin asks Putin to grant clemency to Israeli jailed on drug charges
In a letter addressed to the Russian leader, Rivlin asks for Putin's 'personal intervention' to grant Naama Issachar - jailed for 7.5 years after 9 grams of cannabis were found in her luggage as she transited through a Moscow airport - an 'extraordinary pardon'
Naama Issachar, 26, was arrested on April 9 while in transit in a Moscow airport, en route from India to Israel, and accused of carrying 9 grams of cannabis, her family said. Russian authorities charged her with drug smuggling.Her family says she is being punished disproportionately to pressure Israel into freeing a Russian held in Israel on a U.S. extradition request.
"Naama made a grave mistake and has admitted her crime, but in the case of a young woman with no criminal record, the severe sentence handed down will have a deeply destructive impact on her life, Rivlin wrote in the letter addressed to the Russian leader.
The president also thanked Putin for helping recover the body of an Israeli soldier who disappeared in battle during the First Lebanon War and whose remains had been located in Syria in April. "The Jewish people and the State of Israel are grateful for your sensitivity to human life and for your willingness to endanger the lives of your soldiers to locate and return the body of IDF soldier Zachary Baumel.
"Because of the particular and individual circumstances of Naama Issachar’s case, I am appealing to your mercy and compassion with a request for your personal intervention to grant her an extraordinary pardon.”
The 26-year-old yoga instructor's friend over the weekend posted on her social media a recording of a phone conversation she had with Issachar shortly before her arrest. Naama is heard telling her friend that she is "in a bit more trouble" than she had originally thought.
In addition, Channel 12 released an audio of Friday's sentencing hearing, where the 26-year-old is heard telling the judge the smuggling charge she'd been indicted on is "unreasonable and unjustified." The Israeli added that she "acted irresponsibly" prior to boarding the flight and that she should have been "aware of all the belongings in my bag."
Issachar's family accuses Russia of punishing her after failing to swap her for Alexei Burkov, a Russian national detained by Israel during a 2015 visit. Israel says he is wanted by the United States for suspected cyber offences.
Minutes before Friday’s sentencing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to have ruled out any swap of Issachar for Burkov. “Israeli justice officials have made unequivocally clear that there is no possibility of preventing Burkov’s extradition after Israel’s Supreme Court ruled him extraditable,” a statement by Netanyahu’s office said.
To be implemented, Burkov's extradition must be formally approved by Israel's justice minister, Amir Ohana, who on Saturday said he would decide whether to do so within days and hinted that he might weigh a rival Russian extradition request. Such a request had been filed by Russia, Ohana told Israel's Channel 13 TV, but it was "rather thin in terms of material".
"In order to decide that he is extraditable to Russia, a court needs to rule that he is extraditable. That has not yet happened," Ohana said.
Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report