A Romanian appeals court has upheld a 20-year prison sentence for a 90-year-old communist-era prison guard found guilty of committing crimes against humanity, in the first such case in since the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was tried and executed in 1989.

The court in Bucharest issued its ruling Wednesday on the appeal by Alexandru Visinescu, who was not in court for the verdict.

Visinescu was convicted in July for the deaths at the Ramnicu Sarat prison in eastern Romania during his command from 1956 to 1963. The High Court of Cassation and Justice in Bucharest took up the case after Visinescu appealed.

Visinescu has said he was only following orders. At his final hearing last month he wept and pleaded: "Let me die!"