Anders Behring Breivik, the far-right terrorist behind the 2011 bombing and mass shooting that killed 77 people in Norway, appeared in court this week to sue the Norwegian state over alleged human rights violations due to his isolation in prison. The case has sparked controversy in Norway and abroad.
Background on Breivik and the 2011 Attacks
On July 22, 2011, Breivik first detonated a car bomb in Oslo that killed eight people. He then traveled to the island of Utøya, where he gunned down 69 people, mostly teenagers, attending a summer youth camp for the country’s left-wing Labour Party.
Breivik, now 45 years old, was sentenced in 2012 to 21 years in prison, the maximum possible sentence in Norway. However, his sentence can be extended indefinitely as long as he is deemed a threat to society.
Key Details on the 2011 Norway Attacks:
|July 22, 2011
|Oslo and Utøya island
|Anders Behring Breivik
|Far-right terrorism against multiculturalism and immigration
Breivik has been held in isolation with extremely limited contact with other prisoners or outsiders since being imprisoned. According to his lawyer, Øystein Storrvik, the isolation violates Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Breivik Testifies on Prison Conditions and Mental State
On Tuesday, January 8th, 2024, Breivik took the stand to testify about his prison conditions for the first time since a 2016 human rights court case he filed against the Norwegian state. Speaking to a makeshift courtroom in Norway’s Skien Prison, Breivik claimed the isolation has damaged his mental health and left him “suicidal.”
“I am a political prisoner in a high security prison subject to brutal and completely meaningless, sadistic treatment,” Breivik proclaimed.
His lawyer highlighted that Breivik is kept in near total isolation, banned from physical contact with other inmates or prison employees. Storrvik argued these conditions are unnecessarily cruel and driving Breivik further towards radicalization rather than rehabilitation.
“When the prison door is locked on Mr Breivik, he has to stay in virtual isolation for 22 to 23 hours a day with just a TV and a PlayStation,” Storrvik told the court.
Norway Defends Strict Controls on Breivik
Norwegian prison officials and government lawyers defended the controls on Breivik as necessary given the scale of his crimes and his refusal to show remorse or cooperate with attempts at deradicalization.
“Breivik is an extremely dangerous man,” said the government’s chief lawyer, Marius Emberland, arguing that less stringent conditions would risk fresh violence. He highlighted security concerns that Breivik might inspire copycat attacks if allowed to disseminate extremist views and imagery from prison.
Mixed Opinions Among Victims and Public
Survivors and families of Breivik’s victims expressed mixed views on his treatment in prison and bid to relax his isolation. Some adamantly oppose easing restrictions on him, while others argue that harsh isolation serves little purpose.
“Isolation doesn’t help anyone, so I don’t understand why they are doing this,” said Christin Bjørnsen, who survived Breivik’s shooting massacre on Utøya island.
However, Bjørn Ihler, who also survived Utøya, countered that “The court system should not be used as a platform for his communications with likeminded people.” He expressed concern Breivik could spread dangerous propaganda if given more liberty.
Court Case Expected to Run Through 2024
Breivik is expected to testify over five days in the case being heard by Judge Booker Nilsen at Skien Prison. After hearing arguments from both sides, Judge Nilsen will issue a verdict on whether or not Breivik’s isolation violates human rights conventions Norway has signed.
Key Future Dates in Breivik Case:
|January 9-13, 2024
|Breivik testifies on prison conditions
|Closing arguments from lawyers
|Judge issues ruling
|Appeals process if ruling appealed
“This case won’t be concluded quickly,” Breivik’s lawyer Storrvik told reporters. “Should it go against us, we will appeal all the way to the European Court of Human Rights.”
The court case has sparked renewed debate in Norway around how the country should balance Breivik’s human rights against the need to protect the public from an unrepentant mass killer. The final verdict could set a precedent for how Norway and other European countries treat their most dangerous prisoners.
International Reaction to Breivik’s Case
Breivik’s court case and bid to relax his prison conditions have also attracted significant international attention and commentary:
- Russian propagandists praised Breivik’s far-right views and anti-immigration message while attempting to tie his case to liberal European values.
- Politicians across Europe highlighted the case amidst debates over prison reform and prisoner rights. Some cited Breivik as an example of failed rehabilitation and deradicalization efforts.
- Alt-right internet forums voiced support for Breivik’s release and spread his previous writings and manifestos. Counterterrorism analysts warned sites could inspire further violence.
- Victims groups around the world argued that providing Breivik with platforms to speak could traumatize survivors and families impacted by his attacks.
While Breivik’s case plays out over likely years of court battles, it will have far-reaching implications in Europe and elsewhere embroiled in divisions over nationalism and extremism in prisons. His begrudging appearance this week marked only the first act in a long drama revisiting old wounds from Norway’s most painful tragedy.
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