Issachar, who was flying home to Tel Aviv after a three-month backpacking trip in India, was stopped by police while boarding her connecting flight in Moscow. Russian authorities at the security check informed Issachar they had discovered drugs in her luggage. Issachar denied placing the marijuana in her backpack or knowing how it got there.
On August 20, a prosecutor laid out the charges against the young woman, then the judge postponed the defense’s opening statements until September 3, the Jerusalem Post reported.
“We saw her in court yesterday and it’s devastating. It’s absolutely devastating, what’s going on with her,” sister Liad Gold told i24 News.
Here’s what you need to know about Naama Issachar’s case.
1. Naama Issachar Volunteered to Serve in the Israel Defense Forces
Issachar was born in the United States and moved to Israel when she was 16 years old. She holds dual U.S.-Israel citizenship.
Issachar joined the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and served as a military intelligence combat soldier. She was a “Lone Soldier,” a foreign Jewish man or woman who volunteers to serve in the IDF. Lone Soldiers account for approximately two percent of the Israeli military and are highly admired.
After her army discharge, Issachar left Israel on January 9 for a three-month backpacking trip through India. For many Israelis, backpacking through India, South East Asia, and South America is a rite of passage after concluding their military service, allowing them to relax and have fun before heading off to school or finding a job.
“[After] three years of being ordered around all the time, you just want a break and rest a little bit before going back to working. It’s kind of an expression of freedom when you backpack,” former IDF soldier Dan Nahum told Forbes. “You’re as free as you can ever be.”
2. The Charge Against Issachar was Upgraded From Possession to Smuggling
Issachar was initially charged with possession, a relatively minor offense, but a month later, the charge was elevated to smuggling narcotics. Issachar denies possessing or smuggling any drugs.
Her family emphasized that during her four-hour layover in Moscow, she had no access to the marijuana officials found in her bag, and wasn’t planning on staying in Russia.
Issachar’s cousin, Meital Lazar, told Ynet the worst-case scenario for Issachar is a 3-10 year sentence. “She’s being treated like she’s one of the biggest criminals in Russia.”
3. Issachar’s Sister Said the Family Has Had To “Jump through Hoops & Fire” to Communicate with Her in Prison
Since April, Gold said her family has had to “jump through hoops and fire” to gain permission to visit or speak with her sister. She went on to say that their mother has only been allowed to see Issachar four times and speak with her on the phone twice in four-and-a-half months, far less than the two visits per month and one phone call per week granted to Russian prisoners.
At the August 20 hearing, the judge ordered that Issachar be held in a Moscow police station until her September 3 court date and cannot have any phone calls or visits from family.
Israel Hayom reported that representatives from the U.S. Embassy have met with her four times and a Moscow rabbi has been able to pass letters to Issachar from family members.
Issachar’s trial has been postponed six times and she’s been transferred to three different detention centers or prisons since her arrest, Lazar said, adding that she is currently being held with local drug dealers who ask bizarre questions such as the cost of marijuana or cocaine in Israel.
4. Naama Isscahar’s Family Has Pleaded With Israeli & U.S. Officials to Help
In an interview with i24 News, Gold explained that the family’s pleas to the U.S. and Israeli governments, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have fallen on deaf ears. “So far it’s been complete silence,” she said.
“My message is to both the Israeli and American governments, is to please, please help us. Please help us bring my sister home because this is beyond our control, it is beyond our lawyer’s control, it is beyond us as a family, and we need more help.”
Lazar told Ynet that she and another relative brought letters to the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the president’s residence. “They know all the details but say that they can’t help at this time.”
Lazar noted that the Israeli consul in Russia came to her cousin’s trial, “but it didn’t help.” She added that the hearing ended quickly “with no real serious examination of the case.”
5. The Family Started a Social Media Campaign & Petition to Help Secure Naama’s Release
A WeWantNaama Facebook page was created on August 16 to garner support for Issachar and keep the public updated on the status of her case. The page currently has over 2,000 members who are commenting and sharing information. A WeWantNaama Instagram page is also providing updates. The pages include appeals to the United States and Israel to take action and warns about flying through Russia. Both are asking followers to use the hashtags #FreeNaama and #WeWantNaama.
A LettersToNaama WhatsApp group has also been started so that supporters can send messages to Issachar that will be relayed to her when allowed.
Issachar’s supporters can also sign a petition. “It is true that Naama made a mistake and didn’t notice that she had the cannabis in her bag, but that doesn’t mean she deserves the treatment she is getting! It is abuse!” it reads. “All the facts show she is being blamed for no reason, and suffering for no reason!”