“Why are you so sad, Naama?” the head of the pre-trial detention center asked.
“Because I want to go home,” replied Naama.
In a small meeting room at the pre-trial detention center, 50 kilometers from Moscow, Naama Issachar tells us this story with a sad smile on her face. The only positive news in this kafkaesque nightmare is that Naama is keeping calm in these very challenging circumstances. Indeed, she is carrying herself so admirably well. Given all that she has been through, the primary thing that sustains her now and gives hope is her family’s support, her agile mind, her determination and, finally, her excellent sense of humor.
It is an understatement to say the criminal proceedings against Naama Issachar in Russia and the ensuing ruling by the court have sparked a “strong response” in Israel. Israelis are outraged over the 7.5 year prison sentence for nine grams of hashish found in her backpack on a stopover at Sheremetyevo Airport as she made her way home from Delhi to Tel-Aviv.
The judgment against Naama is also puzzling for Russians and, specifically, for the professional community.
Pursuant to the Russian Criminal Procedure Code, a court judgment must be legal, well-founded and fair. Upon review, it becomes evident that the judgment fails to comply with any of those requirements. The court’s finding that drug smuggling by Naama was established and duly proved by the facts and circumstances does not hold up against legal criticism. The court failed to consider the fact that the case involved a 25-year-old Israeli national who was briefly in the transit area in a Moscow airport, who did not hide the drugs or attempt to access them, and who, moreover, did not pass through customs control. But these facts prove both that Naama had no intent to smuggle and that there are evident inconsistencies between the court’s findings and the circumstances of the case. In other words, the judgment is unfounded and unfair.
It is abundantly clear that both the investigators and the court performed their duties in a slipshod manner. They acted cynically, and with utter cruelty. The only one involved in the case who performed professionally was the sniffer dog who, according to the court, discovered Naama’s red backpack and reacted to it. However, no one has ever denied, during the investigation or legal proceedings, that there was hashish inside.
Regarding the prison sentence, even if we proceed on the basis that the court was “reasonably” assured of smuggling or, as is most probable, that there are other reasons to avoid non-prosecution, 7.5 years of imprisonment seems severe and unjust.
The egregious case of Naama Issachar flies in the face of the principle of proportionality upon which any democracy must base its legal system. A criminal sanction must correspond to the nature of the wrongdoing, its severity, and the identity of the wrongdoer. None of these was justly assessed by the court in its ruling. And the case casts doubt, once again, on the transparency and independence of the Russian judiciary, especially when it comes to criminal proceedings, where the conviction rate is 99.78%.
On top of exemplifying Russia’s overly punitive justice, Naama Issachar’s case raises other troubling issues that go beyond matters of criminal law and the particulars of her case. Sheremetyevo International Airport, with all the economic benefits of its transit services, is likely to be viewed as an unsafe place for travelers. This is already borne out by a decline in Israeli travelers opting to fly through Moscow. The already low rate of travel by Russians and Israelis between the two countries is sure to suffer against the background of Naama’s sentence.
Finally, this episode raises questions about whether military and security cooperation can be strengthened between Russia and Israel. At this time, an array of issues, including a possible pardon for Naama Issachar, are part of a political dialogue between the two countries’ heads of state. However, it is extremely risky to count on a pardon in this case. Indeed, President Putin has consistently held that legal disputes should be determined only in court.
Regardless of the obstacles, we are taking Naama’s case to the court of appeals, and we will counter the prosecution’s claims dispassionately, professionally, and with well-founded arguments.
It is the least Naama deserves.
Advocate and Managing Partner at Pen & Paper Attorneys at Law Valery Zinchenko is representing Naama Issachar before the Russian courts.