February 10, 2016 - 17:07 AMT
Stalin-era prison commander gets 20-year jail term in Romania

A 90-year-old Stalin-era prison commander faced the rest of his life in jail on Wednesday, Feb 10, after Romania's top court dismissed his last appeal against a 20-year jail term for murder and crimes against humanity, Reuters reports.

Alexandru Visinescu was convicted in July of direct involvement in the deaths of 12 inmates, the first case of its kind since the collapse of Nicolae Ceausescu's dictatorship in 1989.

The pensioner, who did not attend the hearing, was waiting in his downtown Bucharest apartment on Wednesday for police to pick up and take him to jail, witnesses said.

He was accused of subjecting inmates to beatings and starvation, and denying them medical treatment and heating, during his time in charge of the institution from 1956 to 1963.

The last survivor of the jail where Visinescu worked, Valentin Cristea, 85, told Reuters he did not want to comment on the case but added: "I'm now old and sick ... What can I say? The justice system has done its duty."

Cristea said he had spent six years in the jail on the outskirts of the small town of Ramnicu Sarat, 150 km (94 miles) east of Bucharest for disclosing state secrets to an anti-communist group. He said he lost 20 kg (44 pounds) during his detention.

Earlier in the legal proceedings, which stretched over two years, Visinescu had described himself as a victim of the system who only followed orders, stating at one point: "I have no regrets, I have no regrets".

According to the Institute for Investigation of Communist Crimes (IICCMER), up to 2 million people are estimated were killed, imprisoned, deported, relocated or otherwise victimized between 1945 and 1989.

About half a million people including peasants, politicians, priests, doctors, officers, land owners and merchants were jailed in the early 1960s after hastily assembled trials and a fifth of them perished in prisons such as Ramnicu Sarat.

Visinescu, who has been living on a special military pension, will likely go to the municipal prison, a police source said, adding he would likely become the country's oldest inmate.

Former IICCMER head Andrei Muraru said: "This is a precedent proving political crimes before 1989 can be punished."