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News 10 Feb 16

Romania Jails Communist-Era Prison Boss

Romania has jailed a communist-era prison commander, Alexandru Visinescu, for 20 years for crimes that he commited more than 50 years ago

Marian Chiriac
Bucharest
Alexandru Visinescu, the former commander of a notorious Communist-era labour camp - See more at: http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/romania-starts-trial-of-ex-communist-gulag-boss#sthash.74PguumU.dpuf

Romania’s high court of cassation and justice on Wednesday upheld a 20-year prison sentence for Alexandru Visinescu, a former prison commander accused of aggravated murder in the deaths of at least 12 political prisoners during the Communist regime

This was the first trial of a head of a Communist-era lockup in Romania since dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was tried and executed in 1989.

Between 1956 and 1963, Visinescu ran the notorious Ramnicu Sarat prison where pre-communist leaders and intellectual elite were incarcerated.

Visinescu, who is now 90, was involved in beating detainees, depriving them of medical treatment and exposing them to cold. Many political prisoners, including a former diplomat and a party leader, died as a result.

More than 50 years have passed since the prisoners’ deaths but under Romanian law there is no time limit on prosecuting serious crimes.

Visinescu was not present in court to hear the verdict. In the past he has denied wrongdoing and insisted he just followed orders. He also claimed that some prisoners died of old age.

After decades of denial, Romania has finally started to try to punish Communist-era crimes. In 2014, the Romanian Institute for Investigating the Crimes of Communism, IICCMER, published a list of 35 people allegedly involved in detaining and torturing dissidents during Communist times.

"The court decision over Visinescu comes a bit too late but it has very important significance. It is important firstly as it rehabilitates the victims and, on the other hand, opens the way for the condemnation of other crimes committed in the communist era,” the IICCMER president, Dinu Zamfirescu, said on Wednesday.

Two other former Communist-era jail bosses, Ioan Ficior and Florian Cormos, are also accused of causing deaths and torturing political prisoners. They both deny wrongdoing.

In recent years, chilling details have emerged about the torments that guards inflicted on political prisoners in the gulags.

Reports have said that around 120,000 of a total of 617,000 political prisoners died that time. Most were politicians, priests, writers and diplomats but some were also peasants.

The investigating committee is concentrating on political crimes committed from the early 1950s until 1964, when a general amnesty was declared.

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