BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — A former commander of a communist labor camp in Romania was charged with genocide for his alleged role in the deaths of 103 political prisoners, prosecutors said Thursday.
Ion Ficior, 85, was deputy commander, then commander of the Periprava labor camp from 1958 to 1963. The camp in the remote Danube Delta village near the Black Sea held up to 2,000 prisoners.
Romania had about 500,000 political prisoners under the Communist regime, about one-fifth of whom died while in detention, according to historians, who say most prisoners were simply people who had fallen afoul of the Communist regime.
Ficior's role was brought to light by a Romanian institute that investigates communist-era crimes, who said that prisoners in the Periprava camp died from malnutrition, beatings, lack of medicine and from dysentery caused by drinking dirty water from the Danube.
The general prosecutors' office said Ficior "introduced and coordinated a repressive detention regime, which was abusive, inhuman," and that targeted political prisoners. They said 103 prisoners died while Ficior was in charge.
Ficior declined to speak to reporters after he was charged Thursday, but had told The Associated Press in an interview in June that only three or four died while he ran the camp. In the interview, he was unrepentant, and said his former prisoners were Nazi supporters during World War II who deserved to be incarcerated.
Ficior is the second former prison commander in Romania to be charged with genocide. On Sept. 3, prosecutors charged 87-year-old Alexandru Visinescu for his leadership of the Ramnicu Sarat prison from 1956 to 1963, where Romania's elite were incarcerated.
Andrei Muraru, head of the Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes, said Ficior and Visinescu can't be imprisoned in Romania because of their age.
"But the fact that they (can get) a conviction for what they did 50 years ago ... is very important in a democratic society," Muraru said.
In September, investigators dug up five skeletons from unmarked graves near Periprava. There were no coffins, clothes or personal possessions next to the bodies.
About 3,500 former Romanian political prisoners from the 1950s and 1960s are still alive, down from 40,000 who were alive when communism was overthrown in 1989.