Romania jails Communist-era prison chief in landmark case

Image source, AFP
Image caption, Some commentators have described Mr Visinescu's trial as "Romania's Nuremberg"

A former Communist-era prison commander has been sentenced to 20 years in jail after being convicted of crimes against humanity in the first such trial in Romania.

Alexandru Visinescu, 89, ran the notorious Ramnicu Sarat prison from 1956 to 1963, where inmates were allegedly tortured and starved.

At least 12 people are said to have died as a result of the abuse.

Mr Visinescu denied the charges, saying he was just following orders.

Prosecutors had sought a 25-year sentence, arguing that Mr Visinescu oversaw an "extermination regime" at the Ramnicu Sarat prison camp in the east of the country.

Nicknamed "the prison of silence" because detainees were held in solitary confinement, the facility housed intellectuals, dissidents, priests and others deemed enemies of the Communist Party.

Image source, AFP/Getty Images
Image caption, Prosecutors say prisoners were tortured and kept on starvation diets

Mr Visinescu can appeal against the 20-year sentence handed down on Friday.

The court also ordered him - along with the finance and interior ministries - to pay €300,000 (£212,000; $328,000) compensation to descendants of prisoners who brought a civil lawsuit, according to Romania's state-run news agency Agerpres.

Mr Visinescu, whose trial began in September, is the first former prison commander to be jailed in Romania over abuses in the Communist-era justice system.

The trial of a second commander, Ion Ficior, who was in charge of the Periprava labour camp, began in April.

More than half a million Romanians were held as political prisoners in the 1950s as the country's Communist government sought to crush dissent.

An official report published in 2006 said between 500,000 and two million people were killed or persecuted by the former Communist authorities.

Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu was toppled and executed in a bloody uprising in December 1989.

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