Israel president asks Putin to pardon woman jailed for cannabis

Jerusalem (AFP) –


Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday appealed to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to pardon an Israeli-American jailed for smuggling cannabis who is reportedly caught up in a prisoner exchange request.

Naama Issachar was caught with nine grammes of the drug in her checked luggage while transiting from India to Israel at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport in April.

The 26-year-old was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in jail by a Russian court on Friday, with Moscow reportedly seeking an exchange of a prisoner set to be extradited by Israel to the United States for her release.

"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 a letter to Putin distributed by his office.

"I am appealing to your mercy and compassion with a request for your personal intervention to grant her an extraordinary pardon."

Russian and Israeli media have reported that Moscow is seeking an exchange to prevent Israel from extraditing Aleksey Burkov, a Russian citizen detained in Israel since 2015 for alleged cyber crimes and credit card fraud.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised her detention with Putin ahead of the verdict and criticised the sentence requested by prosecutors as disproportionate.

On Friday, Netanyahu's office seemed to acknowledge the prisoner exchange request, citing an Israeli supreme court ruling allowing the extradition.

"Judicial authorities in Israel have made it unequivocally clear that there is no possibility of preventing the extradition of Burkov following the supreme court ruling that he is subject to extradition," it said in a statement.

After the sentencing, Issachar's mother Yaffa said she was "shocked that Russia decided to abduct Naama and hold her as a hostage."

Russia has harsh laws on recreational drug use and possession of even a small amount is punishable by a long jail sentence.

According to a Council of Europe report from 2017, Russia has the highest number of people per capita imprisoned for drug crimes in Europe -- around a quarter of the prison population.

Israel has partially decriminalised recreational marijuana use, setting fines and treatment for initial offenders instead of criminal procedures.