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Isabella Belfer is a sixty-nine-year-old Russian-born Israeli woman convicted of kidnapping in Israel and was the oldest person incarcerated in Israel, until she was granted a pardon in 2010. Her case was made famous through RT, an English language Russian news service, while the Israeli media paid little attention to the case.
In 2001, Belfer and her daughter Marina illegally smuggled Lilach, her daughter's child out of the country. She had previously been married to an Israeli. The Israeli father, Yaron Rottem, has not seen his daughter since and has been trying to get her back. The child was taken to Russia, where Belfer and her daughter stayed. However, Belfer's mother, now 94 years old, remained in Israel. Rottem claims that he does not want to take the child away from her mother, but wishes to share custody. He stated that he had never wanted to see Isabella behind bars, and just wanted to be reunited with his daughter. However, his former wife, who chose to stay in Moscow, said that Rottem had abused her.
Belfer returned to Israel in 2006 to assist her ailing mother. Rottem located her and pressed kidnapping charges. Belfer was arrested and put on trial for kidnapping.
Before her trial, Belfer suffered a mild heart attack and had to undergo surgery. Belfer's defense claimed that she was too old to survive prison conditions and would die even if sentenced to one day. She herself expressed worry about going to prison. She had stated that she wondered how long she could survive in prison. Despite claims that she was too old, she was found guilty of kidnapping on January 27, 2008 and sentenced to six years in prison by Judge Oded Mudric, who in the sentencing, stated that Belfer was guilty of "causing fatal [emotional] injuries by not allowing [Yaron Rottem] to be a parent". Michael Yarnin, her lawyer, attempted to overturn the sentence by appealing to the Supreme Court of Israel, but this proved unsuccessful. Her lawyer began trying to obtain a pardon from Israeli president Shimon Peres. After serving her first six months, an Israeli court reduced Belfer's term to three years in prison. After the trial concluded, Belfer was deeply distressed and stated that she felt weak both morally and physically.
Life in prison
Belfer was granted an interview with Russia Today after her sentence was cut in half. Israeli and Russian authorities discussed the possibility of exchanging Belfer for Yair Klein, an Israeli mercenary being held in Russia for allegedly helping Columbian terrorists. On 14 January 2010, President Shimon Peres granted her a pardon, allegedly after being personally asked by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Belfer was pardoned on condition that Rotem be allowed to visit his daughter in Russia.