March 29, 2017 / 2:10 PM / 5 months ago

Romanian communist-era labour colony chief jailed for 20 years

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - An 89-year-old communist-era labour prison commander faces the rest of his life in prison after Romania's top court ruled on Wednesday he must stay 20 years behind bars for murder and crimes against humanity.

Ioan Ficior was sentenced for involvement in the deaths of 103 inmates at the Danube delta prison labour colony of Periprava, the second case of its kind since the collapse of Nicolae Ceausescu's dictatorship in December 1989.

Ficior was accused of subjecting political inmates to beatings and starvation and denying them medical treatment and heating. He was in charge of the prison from 1958 to 1963.

The court ruling, quoting the prosecutors, said: "The biggest death toll - 53 - occurred in 1960. The youngest inmate who died was 19 years old and the oldest was 71."

The former commander protested his innocence, saying: "I did not get involved in such deeds that I'm accused of."

Prosecutors have said detainees were subjected to water and food shortages, beatings with steel wire, lack of medicines and long working hours in maize fields.

Former detainee Gheorghe Tomici recalled: "Personally I have been forced by guards to pluck grass with my teeth."

"I remember a lawyer who left a blade of grass behind during the manual weeding of the maize fields. He was forced by security guards to pluck the weed with his mouth. I remember seeing his dentures in the ground," he said.

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

Reporting by Radu Marinas; Editing by Tom Heneghan

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