Romania upholds sentence for communist-era prison commander
A Romanian appeals court has upheld a 20-year prison sentence for a 90-year-old communist-era prison guard found guilty of committing crimes against humanity.
It is the first such case since the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was tried and executed in 1989.
The court in Bucharest issued its ruling on Wednesday on the appeal by Alexandru Visinescu, who was not in court for the verdict.
Visinescu was convicted in July for the deaths at the Ramnicu Sarat prison in eastern Romania during his command from 1956 to 1963. The High Court of Cassation and Justice in Bucharest took up the case after Visinescu appealed.
Visinescu has said he was only following orders. At his final hearing last month he wept and pleaded: "Let me die."
He was asked six times by the judge and prosecutor why inmates died under his command. He answered just once, suggesting they died of old age.
Wednesday's ruling is a watershed moment in Romania's attempts to bring to communist-era wrongdoers to justice, 27 years after the collapse of one of the most repressive regimes in the former Soviet bloc.
Andrei Muraru, who initiated the case in 2013 when he was head of the Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes, said that he was deeply gratified by the ruling.
"It is a historic sentence because starting from this moment, any crimes committed in the communist era can be condemned," he said.
"It is an important ruling for the rehabilitation of the victims," he added.
The prison that Visinescu ran housed people who had been members of the intellectual, political and military elite in Romania before the Second World War.
All were held in solitary confinement and could communicate with each other only by Morse code. Prosecutors said former prisoners testified that they were denied access to medical treatment, heating, exercise and adequate food.
Nearly 140 inmates were incarcerated during the seven years Visinescu was in command.