Mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in a 2011 bombing and shooting rampage, has launched a fresh lawsuit against the Norwegian state over his conditions in prison, which his lawyer argues amounts to “inhuman” treatment.
Breivik Argues Isolation Violates Human Rights, Causing Deteriorating Mental Health
Breivik has been held in solitary confinement since his arrest for the murder of 8 people in an Oslo bombing and 69 others, mostly teenagers, at a Labour Party youth camp on Utoya island outside the capital.
His lawyer, Oystein Storrvik, told Reuters that the extreme isolation amounts to “inhuman treatment” that goes against Breivik’s human rights. Storrvik said Breivik is suffering increasing psychological damage from over 12 years of spending up to 22 hours a day alone in a three-room cell.
The lawyer highlighted that Breivik:
- Has only had contact with professionals, not other inmates
- Rarely gets fresh air, exercises alone in a small courtyard
- Is strip-searched, shackled, and isolated on the rare occasions when he’s moved
Storrvik warned that the isolation is causing Breivik increasing depression and suggested “his condition is deteriorating due to the prison conditions imposed on him”.
This is the second time Breivik has sued the state over his confinement. His previous suit in 2016 was unsuccessful after an Oslo court ruled solitary was justified due to the “danger he poses”.
History of Breivik’s Brutal Killing Spree Still Haunts Norway
On 22 July 2011, Breivik disguised himself as a police officer to plant a car bomb that exploded near the Oslo government headquarters, killing 8 people and wounding dozens.
He then drove 35 km to the summer camp of Norway’s ruling Labour party on Utoya island and opened fire on participants – mainly teenagers. Over the course of an hour, he methodically hunted and gunned down 69 people. Most victims were teenagers – the youngest just 14 – attending the youth camp.
It is one of the worst mass shootings in history, targeting youth members of a political party Breivik accused of enabling Muslim immigration.
In 2012, Breivik was handed Norway’s maximum sentence of 21 years. However, his prison term can be extended indefinitely if he is deemed a risk to society.
Breivik Still Popular Figure Among Extreme Far-Right Groups
Despite the horrific violence, Breivik remains a cult figure for violent far-right extremists around the world. His manifesto has inspired multiple far-right terror attacks over the past decade.
Just last month, a copycat extremist attacker cited Breivik as inspiration for a failed attack in Spain. Police found explosives, weapons, ammunition, and a manifesto with references to both Breivik and the Christchurch mosque shooter.
Experts have warned that his high-profile lawsuits could further fuel sympathy and inspiration for far-right radicals.
“This simply allows Breivik another chance in the limelight, to spread his vile beliefs and to inspire more attacks across the world” said Magnus Ranstorp, terrorism researcher at the Swedish National Defence College in Stockholm.
Questions Raised Over Appropriateness and Fairness of Breivik’s Prison Conditions
While few dispute that Breivik deserves a severe punishment, some critics argue that extreme isolation without rehabilitation goes against European human rights standards and Norwegian legal traditions.
In a recent op-ed, Oslo Bishop Kari Vegard wrote: “Even monsters condemned for life have human rights. Society bears this paradox in mind”. She questioned whether “complete isolation really is humane and whether it does not simply create a person who has nothing more to lose”.
Storrvik highlighted that Norway doesn’t normally impose life sentences or solitary confinement. The country’s sentencing system aims to rehabilitate prisoners and reintegrate them into society through education and psychiatric help. Storrvik said this makes Breivik’s ongoing 12-year isolation an “extra punishment”.
Predicted Uphill Battle For Breivik’s Lawsuit
However, most legal experts predict that Breivik faces an uphill battle to end his isolation or obtain financial compensation, given the perception that he remains dangerous.
His lawyer will have to convince the court that the risk posed by Breivik has reduced over the past 12 years. But given his lack of remorse or rehabilitation while incarcerated, experts say judges will likely continue justifying solitary confinement on national security grounds.
“It is unlikely his conditions will change given the danger he poses” said Professor Marius Storvik, a criminal law expert at Oslo University. “But the fact he continues seeking publicity through legal challenges poses a dilemma as it spreads his ideology and encourages copycats”.
Storvik highlighted that while Breivik technically has the same rights as any prisoner, exceptions can be made for national security including strict measures like isolation. So it comes down to whether judges continue viewing him as an exceptional case warranting an exceptional response.
Timeline of Key Events
|July 22, 2011
|Breivik carries out bombing and mass shooting that kills 77 people
|Sentenced to 21 years prison, eligible for extension if still deemed dangerous
|March 15, 2016
|Launches 1st lawsuit against state over solitary confinement
|April 20, 2016
|Oslo court rules solitary confinement justified based on Breivik’s dangerousness
|January 8, 2024
|Starts 2nd legal challenge against prison conditions and isolation
The outcome of Breivik’s latest lawsuit remains uncertain, but the case promises to spark continued debate within Norway between justice, security and human rights.
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