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Naama Issachar, Israeli-American Imprisoned in Russia, ‘Struggling to See Light at the End of the Tunnel,’ Sister Says

avatar by Ben Cohen


Naama Issachar. Photo: Facebook.

The sister of Naama Issachar — the Israeli-American woman sentenced last week by a Russian court to seven-and-a-half years in prison — called on the US government on Friday to take a more proactive role in securing her release.

“I’m urging the American government to get involved, and if I can reach someone in the White House, then that will definitely help,” Liad Goldberg told The Algemeiner on Friday.

Issachar, who is Goldberg’s younger sister, had already served six months in a Russian jail before she received her sentence. She was originally arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in April with nine grams of cannabis in her bag while in transit from a vacation in India back to Israel.

Israel condemned the sentence as grossly disproportionate and has demanded the 26-year-old’s release.

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The issue at the heart of Issachar’s imprisonment is not drug smuggling, but Russia’s insistence that Israel release Aleksey Burkov, an IT specialist wanted in the United States on charges of hacking and credit card fraud. Burkov was arrested at Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv in 2015 and is currently awaiting extradition to the US, after the measure was approved by Israel’s Supreme Court in August.

Russian officials have suggested a prisoner exchange whereby Burkov would return to Russia and Issachar to Israel — an equivalence which Goldberg said was deeply unfair to her sister.

“My sister’s fate should not be tied to the fate of this hacker,” she said. “My sister is an American citizen with no previous criminal record, who made a mistake, and received seven-and-a-half years in prison.” Burkov, she continued, “is an accused criminal, and it’s completely unjust and wrong for them to compare the two.”

Goldberg said that despite her family’s constant efforts to stay in touch with Naama, the conditions of her imprisonment and the severity of her sentence were taking a toll on her mental health.

“Our mom saw her earlier in the week and she’s very hopeless and frustrated — she’s really struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Goldberg said.

She added that she did not believe that her sister received the same rights as other prisoners in the jail, which is situated 90 minutes from Moscow by car.

“Its been very difficult to get her letters and food, it’s very strict,” Goldberg said. Despite the distance and expense, their mother “never misses an opportunity to see her.”

“We don’t speak Russian, so our mom is at the mercy of translators and strangers to help her,” she said.

Goldberg said she was not aware of any plans to try and meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Russian leader is scheduled to visit Israel in January — “that’s a long time for my sister to stay in jail,” she said.

Goldberg stressed her belief that the Israeli Ministry of Justice could still decide to return Burkov to Russia — a move she would wholeheartedly support were it to bring about her sister’s release. She said that she hoped that the US would take into account that putting Burkov on trial would come “at the cost of one of their citizens languishing in a Russian jail.”

Goldberg will be appearing in person at a rally outside the Russian Consulate in New York City on Saturday to demand Naama’s immediate release.

“I was always the trouble-maker, Naama was always such a good girl,” Goldberg said, pointing to her sister’s record of service in the IDF as a sharpshooter with a combat unit and in field intelligence. “They can’t let Naama rot in jail for seven-and-a-half years.”

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