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Communist-era prison commander handed 20-year year sentence

FILE - In this Tuesday July 30, 2013 file photo retired Lt. Col. Alexandru Visinescu, 87, looks at journalists as he enters his home in Bucharest, Romania. A court set a 20-year sentence for a communist-era prison commander on Friday convicted of crimes against humanity in the deaths of 12 inmates, in the first such trial in Romania. The Appeals Court on Friday, July 24, 2015 sentenced the 89-year-old Visinescu to 20 years for deaths which happened under his command. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, File)

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — A court on Friday set a 20-year sentence for a communist-era prison commander convicted of crimes against humanity in the deaths of 12 inmates, in the first such trial in Romania.

The Appeals Court sentenced the 89-year-old Alexandru Visinescu to 20 years for deaths which happened under his command. Visinescu, who was not in court to hear the ruling, has said he was merely following orders and has shown no remorse.

The court ordered him to contribute, along with government agencies, to paying 300,000 euros ($330,000) to relatives of victims.

Visinescu’s lawyer, Valentina Bornea, told The Associated Press her client was unhappy with the sentence but had not decided whether to appeal.

From 1956 to 1963, Visinescu ran Ramnicu Sarat, a prison in eastern Romania where intellectuals and political and military officials were tortured and sometimes killed.

“This is a moral victory for us, “said Anca Cernea, whose father and grandfather were political prisoners at Ramnicu Sarat. “He committed crimes and however long has passed since then, he should still be punished.”

Prosecutors said detainees were kept in unheated cells, kept in solitary confinement, severely underfed, denied medical treatment and beaten in “a regime of extermination.” About 138 inmates were incarcerated under Visinescu’s command.

“This is the most important decision ever taken by Romania’s justice system regarding accountability for the communist era,” Andrei Muraru, who initiated the case in 2013 when he was head of the institute investigating crimes under communism, told the AP.

“This confirms a transformation in the justice system.”

About 500,000 Romanians were held as political prisoners in the 1950s and early ’60s.

Visinescu is the first prison commander from that time to stand trial.

Ion Ficior, who ran the Periprava labor camp, is awaiting trial for crimes against humanity for the deaths of 103 people there.

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