A former Romanian prison commander has appeared in court to face charges of torture and causing the deaths of 12 political prisoners in the nation's first trial of a commander of a communist lockup.

Alexandru Visinescu, who ran the Ramnicu Sarat prison from 1956 to 1963 and is charged with crimes against humanity, was in court but did not take the stand Wednesday.

Visinescu, 88, told The Associated Press earlier that the court would have to prove his actions led to prisoners' deaths.

The widow of one former political prisoner asked the court for 100,000 euros ($132,000) in moral and financial damages.

About 500,000 Romanians were condemned as political prisoners in the 1950s as the nation's Communist government sought to crush all dissent. The next court session is on Oct. 22.