Romania: Communist jail guard accused of deaths

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Associated Press

Posted on July 30, 2013 at 8:01 AM

Updated Tuesday, Jul 30 at 10:03 AM

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — A Romanian committee investigating crimes committed by the former communist government asked the general prosecutor on Tuesday to bring charges of aggravated murder against a prison commander for the deaths of six political prisoners.

From 1956 to 1963, Lt. Col. Alexandru Visinescu ran the notorious Ramnicu Sarat prison where Romania's pre-communist political leaders and intellectual elite were incarcerated.

Andrei Muraru, head of the institute investigating communist crimes, said prisoners died from beatings, hunger, a lack of medical treatment and exposure to cold. It plans to hand a total of 35 files to prosecutors.

Romania had communist governments from 1945 until 1989. The investigating committee is currently concentrating on political crimes from the early 1950s until 1964, when a general amnesty was declared.

Speaking to journalists near his Bucharest home Tuesday, Visinescu, 87, rejected the accusations against him and said he was only doing his job. He cursed and took a swipe at a cameraman.

One death under his command was that of diplomat Victor Radulescu Pogoneanu, who was serving a 25-year sentence for "plot and treason."

He died after prison guards held his paralyzed legs and dragged him down stairs, banging his head on each step.

Ion Mihalache, leader of the Peasant Party and one of Romania's most important politicians of the last century, was beaten and denied medical treatment. He died aged 82 at the prison when Visinescu was commander.

In an interview with The Associated Press last month, Visinescu said officials who sentenced prisoners were responsible for the system and its abuses. Visinescu claimed he showed acts of humanity such as adding water to an over-salted dish of polenta to make it more edible.

His claims were at odds, however, with a 30-page document handed to the general prosecutor Tuesday. The document, obtained by The Associated Press, said that under his command prisoners were weakened on a diet of 500 to 600 calories day, beaten arbitrarily, denied medical treatment, made to stand up for hours, and regularly endured solitary confinement.

Visinescu's colleague Alexandru Panturu was quoted as saying the commander threatened prisoners with a pistol and dragged them out of bed.

Historians call Ramnicu Sarat the "extermination prison" and the "prison of silence" because of the regime of solitary confinement.

Romania had 617,000 political prisoners, of whom a fifth died in prison, according to historians of the communist period.

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