A former commander of a communist prison in Romania who is charged with responsibility for the torture and deaths of 12 inmates has told a court that he was only following orders and that the fatalities were the result of natural causes.

Alexandru Visinescu, 89, is charged with crimes against humanity when he ran the notorious Ramnicu Sarat prison from 1956 to 1963.

His comment Wednesday was contained in a statement read to the court.

He appeared agitated when the widow of former inmate Gen. Ion Eremia testified how her late husband lost 50 kilograms (110 pounds) and was denied medicine in prison.

About 500,000 Romanians were held as political prisoners in the 1950s while the Communist government sought to crush all dissent.

Visinescu's case will continue Nov. 19.