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Russia jails Israeli-American woman, 25, for drug smuggling

A Russian court on Friday convicted a 25-year-old Israeli-American woman of drug smuggling and jailed her for seven-and-a-half years, the TASS state news agency reported.

Naama Issachar had already spent six months in custody on charges of smuggling nine gram of cannabis into Russia.

A court in the town of Khimki outside Moscow found her guilty of smuggling a “significant amount” of drugs, TASS reported.

According to Israeli media, the drugs were found in her checked luggage while she was transferring flights from India to Israel at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in April.

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

A statement released by Netanyahu’s office after the verdict said he “appreciates President Putin’s willingness to dedicate time to the issue, and hopes that the effort will bear fruit soon”.

The Israeli foreign ministry said in a statement that it was “seriously concerned” at the verdict.

“This is a harsh and disproportionate punishment to a young Israeli with no criminal past,” it said, adding Russian authorities had not responded to Israeli requests “to treat the case appropriately”.

After the sentencing, her mother Yaffa Issachar said in a statement that she was asking Netanyahu for help.

“Naama won’t last in the Russian prison, please get her out of there,” she said.

A Change.org petition to free Issachar has gathered over 5,000 signatures.

Russia has harsh laws on recreational drug use and possession of even a small amount for personal use 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.

Foreigners have fallen victim to the laws, often unaware of their severity.

A 19-year-old US tourist was arrested in Saint Petersburg last month and could face up to three years in jail for bringing in marijuana. While she had a US permit for personal medical use, Russia does not recognise these.

In 2016 a British man working at a Russian university was sentenced to three years for buying and possessing hashish. He was released in 2018 and deported.