Romanian Communist-era jail commander stands trial

22 October 2014 by Isabelle Wesselingh, Bucharest (Romania)

For the first time since the fall of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu a quarter-century ago, a Communist-era prison commander faces charges of crimes against humanity. The landmark trial of Alexandru Visinescu could help Romanians come to terms with their country’s totalitarian legacy. Survivors of the grisly Ramnicu Sarat prison in eastern Romania waited for decades to see the former chief appear before judges.

“The trial comes way too late, but still it’s an important step to free our minds from this nightmare,” Nicoleta Eremia, the widow of a political inmate, told IJT. Eremia requested reparations of 100,000 euros at the first hearing, which took place at a Bucharest court on 24 September. In 1958, her husband, General Ion Eremia, was sentenced to 14 years of jail and 25 years of forced labour after writing a satirical novel about Stalin. When let go in 1964, following a decree to release political prisoners, he weighed 33 kilos and could barely walk. “He never recovered completely,” Eremia told the court.

A few benches away, Visinescu, now 89, listened motionlessly. He is accused of overseeing a regime of extermination between 1956 and 1963 that caused the death of 14 political detainees. The accused, reads the indictment “submitted the political detainees to conditions designed to destroy them physically, by depriving them of medical care, food and heating and inflicting abuse on them … a crime against humanity”. 

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