An appeals court hearing has started in Romania for a former communist prison chief, who was sentenced in a lower court to 20 years in prison for crimes against humanity.

Alexandru Visinescu, 90, on Wednesday appeared in court to appeal his July conviction for the death of 12 prisoners due to mistreatment under his command at the Ramnicu Sarat lockup from 1956 to 1963, where Romania's pre-war elite were incarcerated.

His lawyer, Nicolae Oltean, asked the High Court for Cassation and Justice to re-examine the prisoners' death certificates, but the judge ruled against that.

Visinescu says he was merely following orders. He waited in court for nine hours Wednesday and said he was too tired to make a statement. The next hearing is scheduled for Jan. 27.