The disproportionate penalty sparked protests in Israel, and several Israeli and American officials are still trying to put pressure on Russia to release the unfortunate girl. Even two phone calls made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Russian President Vladimir Putin to pardon Naama have not yet produced the desired result.
Not a simple Cannabis possession case
This sad story began when Naama completed a few-month trip to India, boarding a plane on her way to Israel.
During the connection stop in Moscow, the local police arrested her, claiming that 9 grams of hashish were found in her belongings.
Stories like these are plentiful, and quite often you can hear an unfortunate tale of someone being forced to sit in a detention center for a few days because he forgot about something forbidden he had left in the bag – in most situations, the case is about small ammunition components or illicit drugs.
Naama and her family were indeed worried by the arrest, but they innocently thought that after a few days she will be released and able to return to her family.
Only after a few weeks in detention, they began to realize that this was not an esoteric matter of a girl caught with a small amount of cannabis, but that Naama had entered the very core of a complicated diplomatic affair between Russia, the US, and Israel.
20 Million American dollars
Almost four years earlier, Alexei Burkov, a Russian citizen, arrived on a trip to Israel and was immediately arrested at the airport following an international arrest warrant made by US law enforcement agencies.
Burkov, who specializes in networking information security, was pronounced “wanted” in the U.S. for several years on suspicion of fraud and trafficking credit card details of American citizens.
The amount stolen by Burkov is quite high and is believed to be no less than $20 million. Israel has already agreed to extradite Burkov to the Americans, but the Russians are making great efforts to keep Burkov in Israel and away from American hands.
The reason for Russia’s firm opposition to the idea that Burkov will stand trial in the US, at least for the assessment of Israeli officials, is because the Russian hacker might hold classified information that the Russians are trying to prevent in any way possible to leak to the American authorities.
And amidst all this frenzy of American, Russian, and Israeli interests, sits a poor girl whose only crime was a possession of fewer than 10 grams of Charas…
“I am aware that I acted irresponsibly”
On the Jewish special day of “Yom Kippur” (“Day of Atonement”), six months after she was arrested for the first time, Naama’s final hearing took place in the Russian court. While she was in the middle of fasting, Naama read before the judge her closing speech:
“Honorable Judge, I am aware that I acted irresponsibly before my flight, that I should be aware of all the objects in my luggage – that is why I took full responsibility for the charge of cannabis possession in my first trial on April 10”.
“However, I think charges of attempting smuggling are unreasonable and unjustified,” she tried to explain “My actions indicate that I never intended to enter the country and if my words are not credible enough, as the prosecutor said, then there were seven hours between my two flights and I did not try to leave the area of transit or to demand my luggage at any time.”
Naama continued to explain to the judge with tears in her eyes: “I understand that this is a subject taken seriously in the Russian Federation but I beg you to recognize that this was one mistake, a person who has not been intending to enter the country or violate any law. I believe that the six months I spent in prison is enough to make up for the crime of holding cannabis – that is all, Judge.”
The Russian judge was not moved by Naama’s words or tears – and sentenced her to seven and a half years in prison.
“All we have left to do is pray”
“They are doing politics on my daughter’s back,” said Yaffa Issachar, Naama’s mother. “Prime Minister Netanyahu will have to help me get her out of there. I don’t know what the Russian demands, only he knows.”
Yaffa went on to say that, she is “shocked that Russia has decided to kidnap Naama and hold her hostage, she is not a criminal and her place is not in a Russian prison. We are appealing to the Israeli prime minister for help – Naama will not hold in the Russian prison for too long, please help her.”
Some of the Israeli public also did not remain indifferent, and in October a demonstration was held in Tel Aviv with about 200 people calling for the release of Naama. A similar demonstration was also held in New York in front of the Russian consulate there. “We sincerely hope that these voices will get to where they need to reach,” said one family relative, “So far all we have left to do is pray, and hope that our pleas will not fall on deaf ears …”
Written and published By Ziv Genesove in Weed World Magazine Issue 144