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Ex-head of notorious Romania Communist prison given 20-year sentence

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The former commander of one of the most notorious prisons under Romania’s ousted Communist regime was given a 20-year jail term Friday.

Alexandru Visinescu, 89, had been on trial since September on charges of crimes against humanity, in the first case of its kind since the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu’s regime in 1989.

Prosecutors had sought a 25-year term.

Visinescu has 10 days in which to appeal, and his court-appointed lawyer, Valentina Bornea said it was “very likely” he would do so.

Visinescu is accused of operating an “extermination regime” at the Ramnicu Sarat prison for political detainees in eastern Romania, which he ran from 1956 to 1963.

At least 14 people died during his tenure.

All prisoners were held in solitary confinement, denied the right to speak to anyone and suffering hunger and beatings.

Visinescu, who was not in court for the sentencing, made no comment when contacted by AFP.

“The sentence is late but nonetheless it is a moral victory for Visinescu’s victims,” said Anca Cernea, a civilian plaintiff in the case, whose father and grandfather had both been incarcerated at the Ramnicu Sarat facility.

Over 600,000 people were jailed in Romania for political reasons between 1945 and 1989, according to the Sighet Memorial for the victims of communism.

The most severe crackdowns took place in the 1950s.

Visinescu said in his defence that he was obeying orders from his superiors and upheld the law.

He voiced no regrets or apologies, and there was just a single survivor, Valentin Cristea, 84, who was able to testify in court.

That made it frustrating for those who had hoped for a Romanian version of the Nuremberg Trial that would expose the dark past and provide some closure.

“I’m a little disappointed by how the trial unfolded… but the most important thing is that it has created a precedent in Romania,” Cosmin Budeanca, head of the Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes (IICCMER) in Bucharest, told AFP.

“This is the first trial of its kind and all of us, researchers and magistrates alike, have things to learn from it.”

IICCMER, a government body which probes the history of communism in Romania, lobbied for years to have Visinescu and 35 other figures in Romania’s gulags prosecuted.

In a separate trial that began in April, a Communist-era labour camp commander, Ioan Ficior stands accused of causing the death of 103 inmates at the Periprava camp in southeastern Romania between 1958 and 1963.

Most of the dead were identified as “counter-revolutionaries” by the prosecution, in effect opponents of the Communist regime.

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