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Russia jails Israeli-US woman for smuggling cannabis

A Russian court on Friday sentenced a 25-year-old Israeli-American woman to jail for seven-and-a-half years for smuggling cannabis, her lawyer told AFP.

A court in the town of Khimki outside Moscow found Naama Issachar guilty of smuggling nine grams of cannabis into Russia, her lawyer Alexander Tayts said.

He said he would appeal the sentence, which he called “illegal and unfounded.”

The drugs were found in Issachar’s checked luggage while she was transferring flights from India to Israel at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in April.

Tayts said that she should not have been convicted of smuggling because “she did not leave the transit zone, she did not go through customs.”

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”.

Issachar spent six months in custody ahead of her trial.

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.