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American Israeli woman formerly jailed in Russia over cannabis talks about Brittney Griner's case

Jul 14, 2022 | Media Partners, The GrowthOp

This post is presented by our media partner The Growth Op
View the original article here.

Naama Issachar had about nine grams of cannabis in her possession and recalls feeling her heart sink when a Russian airport official discovered a small plastic bag tucked inside a fanny pack.

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An American Israeli woman who formerly served 10 months in Russian prisons after entering the country with a small amount of cannabis has spoken publicly about her case for the first time.

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In an interview with NBC News, Naama Issachar recounted her experience of unknowingly entering the country with a small amount of cannabis in 2019.

  1. FILE: Members of Team Wilson wear Brittney Griner's number while they walk to the bench during the 2022 AT&T WNBA All-Star Game at the Wintrust Arena on July 10, 2022 in Chicago, Ill. /

    Brittney Griner in the spotlight during WNBA All-Star game

  2. FILE: US WNBA basketball superstar Brittney Griner arrives to a hearing at the Khimki Court, outside Moscow on June 27, 2022. /

    EXPLAINER: Is Brittney Griner’s guilty plea a step toward freedom?

  3. ‘It could have been any of us’: Brittney Griner’s USA Basketball teammates speak up

Issachar said she was moved through a number of facilities while imprisoned, including the same place Griner is believed to be held now.

“I know what she’s going through,” she said. “I see the videos of her and I’m like, I know that courtroom.”

Like Griner, Issachar, who was making her way from India to Israel when she was arrested, entered Russia unaware that cannabis was in her luggage.

“It was never intentional,” Issachar said. “There was never a time that I knew it was in my bag.”

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She had about nine grams of cannabis in her possession and recalled feeling her heart sink when a Russian airport official discovered a small plastic bag tucked inside a fanny pack.

“I knew it was probably bad, [but] I didn’t understand how bad it could be — that this is probably one of the worst countries for that,” Issachar said.

She was later sentenced to 7.5 years in prison but was released after 10 months following a pardon from President Vladimir Putin. Issachar said she believes she was “hands down” a political pawn as tensions escalated between Putin and then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, per USA Today.

Like Issachar, Griner’s case occurs at a particularly tense time in the relationship between U.S. and Russia. The details of Griner’s case have never been clear and what little information about her case that has been made available has come from Russian state media.

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Jonathan Franks, the campaign spokesman for Trevor Reed, a U.S. Marine veteran who was recently released after being detained in Russia since August 2019 for allegedly assaulting police officers, recently told CNN that Griner’s case has the “hallmarks of a very wrongful and arbitrary detention.”

“They’re making her out to sound like a drug kingpin. I think that it is unlikely that Ms. Griner will get a fair trial,” he said, adding “nobody gets a fair trial in Russia. It’s a rigged game.”

Earlier this month, Griner, who faces up to 10 years in prison on charges of large-scale transportation of drugs, pleaded guilty but added she had no criminal intent and was unaware the vape canisters were in her luggage.

Griner is due back in court this week and it is unclear if that will conclude testimony. While a suspended sentence or prisoner exchange remains possible, a verdict won’t be reached immediately, according to The Associated Press.

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“It is clear that we have not completed the necessary judicial procedures. Until this happens, there are no nominal, formal, procedural grounds for any further steps, not to mention anything else,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov previously told AP.

American Iranian journalist Jason Rezaian, who was detained in Iran for 544 days after being convicted of espionage in a closed-door trial, is also skeptical of the “large-scale drug importation” allegations against Griner.

“I know from my own case that the supposed charges against me were not based in anything like reality, and they were used to perpetuate a narrative about why I was being held,” Rezaian, who was released in 2016, told CNN in March.

“My attitude is Brittney Griner is innocent of any crimes until the world sees otherwise,” he added.

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Last week, Griner was in the spotlight at the WNBA All-Star Game, as players took the court wearing jerseys bearing her name and number.

Before the game tipped off, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert addressed Griner’s case in a press conference.

“I really want to start and just reiterate that we’re thinking of Brittney Griner at this time,” Engelbert said, per CNN. “She remains a huge priority for us, continues to have our full support, fully focused on getting her home safely and as soon as possible.”

Englebert also added the league plans on spending $1.5 million on player marketing deals this cycle, an increase of several hundred thousand dollars, to encourage players to remain in the U.S., instead of signing lucrative deals overseas.

“The big thing is the fact that we have to go over there,” Breanna Stewart, the top pick in the 2017 WNBA draft, told The Associated Press in March. WNBA players can earn four to five times their U.S. salaries while playing in Russia, NBC has previously reported.

“It was BG, but it could have been anybody,” Stewart added.

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