BUCHAREST -- A judge in Romania has infuriated the son of a victim of Nicolae Ceausescu's regime by ruling that the communist dictator's feared secret police did not "systematically exterminate" imprisoned political dissidents after the mid-1980s.
Bucharest Appeals Court Judge Mihaela Nita wrote in her January 22 opinion that the 1985 death in custody of anti-communist dissident Gheorghe Ursu could not have been the work of Securitate agents because Ursu was not really a dissident.
"The policy of the Romanian state at that time was not to suppress forms of opposition to the political regime and the ruler of the state through violence and physical elimination," Nita reasoned while acquitting two former secret police officers, Marin Parvulescu and Vasile Hodis, in connection with Ursu's November 1985 death in a Bucharest prison cell.
Ursu's son, Andrei Ursu, told RFE/RL that the ruling was an insult to both his father and the memory of more than 1,000 Romanians killed by Romanian security forces before the December 1989 revolution culminated in the summary trial and execution of the widely reviled Ceausescu and his wife, Elena.
Ceausescu ran a ruthless police state that was characterized for over two decades by torture, arbitrary detentions, and secret trials against real and perceived enemies.
Ursu insists that his father died in custody after he was repeatedly beaten and tortured by Securitate interrogators.
Nita wrote that Romania's former Department of State Security, known as the Securitate, was no longer working in 1985 with "a clear intention of systematically exterminating any opponent of the state authorities."
She also said the elder Ursu's opposition to Ceausescu's regime was "insignificant" and that he was "a person who'd been privileged for a long time" under totalitarianism.
Therefore, Nita concluded, Ursu would not have been investigated by the secret police and Securitate agents would not have sought revenge against him for his views on Ceausescu.
'Intimidated By Ex-Agents'
Andrei Ursu told RFE/RL's Romanian Service on January 23 that the acquittal of the former Securitate agents shows that Romania's communist-era secret police "still have power within state institutions and in mass media."
"She was intimidated by these former Securitate agents," Ursu said from the United States, where he now resides. "She gave in to the pressure of the former Securitate."
"It's the only explanation I have," he said. "It may have been because she was afraid or because of other forms of influence. But I have no doubt that she has perverted this case."
Gheorghe Ursu was a construction engineer specializing in seismic risks and a published poet who was active in Romanian dissident circles.
Securitate files released after 1989 show the secret police began to target Ursu after he criticized Ceausescu's response to a 1977 earthquake that killed more than 1,500 people in southern Romania and damaged many buildings in Bucharest.
Ursu was on a team of experts assigned to assess and repair buildings that had been damaged by the quake.
He was outraged when reconstruction work was suspended in 1984 so that Ceausescu could instead focus resources on building the so-called House of the Republic -- an infamously megalomaniacal architectural project in Bucharest that now houses Romania's parliament.
Letters To RFE/RL
Ursu expressed his anger in at least two letters that he sent to RFE/RL at its Cold War headquarters in Munich, Germany.
Ceausescu reportedly was infuriated when the Romanian public heard Ursa's letters being read on the air by RFE/RL's Romanian Service.
As the secret police closed in on him, colleagues at the office Ursu headed seized a diary-like registry from his desk in which he'd been writing daily grievances against the totalitarian regime.
The secret police searched Ursu's home after his colleagues turned the notebook over to the Securitate.
According to his criminal file, Ursu was arrested on charges of illegally possessing foreign currency after agents found 15 U.S. dollars and 10 Deutsche marks at his home.
Andrei Ursu said Parvulescu and Hodis used torture to try to force his father to say that he'd been paid to send the letters to RFE/RL.
"They wanted to prove that he wrote the letters for money rather than out of any personal conviction -- or simply that he was crazy," he said. "It was an attempt to cover up an authentic act of dissent against Nicolae Ceausescu -- to discredit the accusations against Ceausescu and to discredit Radio Free Europe."
"If he had played by their rules and said that he had received money for writing those letters, they probably would not have killed him," Andrei said of his father's death.
In the indictment against Parvulescu and Hodis, prosecutors in a military trial court charged the two with "crimes against humanity" in connection with Ursu's death. They said the two conducted Ursu's interrogations and oversaw his torture through "systematic beatings."
The prosecutors also named two communist-era interior ministers, George Homostean and Tudor Postelnicu, when the trial against Parvulescu and Hodis began in August 2016.
But both Homostean and Postelnicu died within a year, before the military tribunal reached a verdict.
Previous trials over Ursu's death implicated Ursu's cellmate, Marian Clita, and two local police officers who worked at the prison.
In 2000, a court convicted Clita and sentenced him to 20 years in prison after he confessed that he'd beaten Ursu to death after being ordered to do so by jailers.
Clita's sentence was later reduced and he was freed in 2008. He is now serving another prison term in Romania for the murder of a Danish flight attendant.
Police Colonel Tudor Stanica and his subordinate Mihai Creanga were both convicted in 2003 on charges that they had ordered Clita to kill Ursu.
Each was sentenced to 20 years in prison. But Stanica was released on medical grounds after serving just 11 months, and Creanga was released after five years.
Ursu's son insists that Clita's confession was a performance aimed at protecting those who ordered his father's death from justice.