A former soldier has denied smuggling cannabis after being sentenced to almost eight years behind bars after Russian drugs officers found nine grams of marijuana as she waited for a connection flight in Moscow.
Naama Issachar, a 26-year-old with dual American and Israeli citizenship, was returning home to Tel Aviv from a three-month trip to India when officers swooped. She was immediately jailed in Moscow before being sentenced on Friday.
Her sister, Liad Gold, has now appealed to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to intervene and ask the Russian government to review the severity of the sentence.
“I feel incredibly terrible and sad and heartbroken for her,” Mrs Gold told Fox News.
“She is very strong but she won’t survive there much longer.”
Naama, who was born in New Jersey, moved to Israel with her family at the age of 16 before joining the Israeli army as part of the country’s national service programme.
Her sister Liad explained that Naama had weed with her throughout her extended holiday in India and had “accidentally” left the stash in her bag during the return journey, stressing she wasn’t smuggling the cannabis.
Upon first being arrested on April 9, she was charged with possession and remanded in jail until Friday’s sentencing where the charges had escalated to drug smuggling.
Recordings of the hearing were released over the weekend, with Naama heard to be confessing to the possession charge before the judge.
“I am aware that I acted irresponsibly before my flight, that I should have been aware of all of the items I have on my person,” she says.
“That is the reason that I took full responsibility for Charge 228 in my first trial in April.”
She maintains that she is not guilty of “Charge 229” (drugs smuggling).
It is understood that Prime Minister Netanyahu has already spoken with his Russian counterpart, and the family are confident that a resolution can be reached for what they consider to be an excessive sentence.
“I think the punishment doesn’t fit the crime,” Liad added.
“I think it’s extreme and inhumane and she’s more than paid the price for what she did.”