Nine months after he inflicted the greatest national trauma on Norway since World War II, the trial of 33-year-old Anders Behring Breivik was getting underway in the Oslo City Court Monday morning. Breivik was driven in a convoy from his cells at Ila Prison outside the city to the courthouse, where he faces formal charges of committing terrorist attacks, 77 murders, 42 attempted murders and causing massive structural damage after bombing Norway’s government headquarters.
At least 1,500 persons are directly involved in the huge legal case, including the hundreds attending the Labour Party summer camp that Breivik targeted in his massacre on the island of Utøya northwest of Oslo. Fully 813 are defined as plaintiffs or victims in the case, and there are nearly 200 lawyers involved on their behalf, or as part of the state prosecution and defense.
Many of them lined up before the courthouse doors opened at 7am, because everyone is subject to security controls akin to those at airports. There were separate entrances for journalists, lawyers, survivors and families of victims killed in the July 22 attacks. There were a few bright points as they waited: Some of the security fences were adorned with roses, bringing back memories of the massive solidarity Norwegians showed after the attacks, when cities and towns all over the country were decorated with flowers.
The case is so large that the city courthouse was remodeled and expanded to accommodate as many as possible in Oslo, while video links will simultaneously transmit the proceedings to courthouses elsewhere in Norway. Youngsters attending the Labour summer camp on Utøya came from all over the country, so survivors, their families and other interested parties will be following the legal action in Oslo from remote locations.
Many have dreaded the launch of the trial, fearing it will dredge up horrifying memories and force them to re-live the attacks that Breivik carried out on the afternoon of July 22, 2011. While much of Monday’s court action was to involve legal formalities and readings of all the charges against him, Breivik himself will start testifying and defending his attacks from Tuesday. Breivik, a right-wing extremist who has said he attacked those he held responsible for allowing Muslims to immigrate to Norway, has been given nearly a week to explain why he did what he did. It is standard legal practice in Norway for defendants to offer such an explanation, called a forklaring in Norwegian.
There is no question of Breivik’s guilt in the case. The first two weeks will concentrate on Breivik and his bombing of government buildings in downtown Oslo. Most of May will concentrate on his massacre on Utøya. The main point of the trial is to determine whether Breivik was sane or insane, and whether he can be held criminally liable for his actions.
Most of the streets around the courthouse have been blocked off and Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) described the building as “hermetically sealed” as of Sunday night. Police have urged the public to stay away from the area around the courthouse, to reduce crowds and traffic chaos. Other cases will proceed as usual in the courthouse, though, with everyone entering and leaving subject to the stringent security controls.
Several hundred foreign journalists have also traveled to Oslo to cover the trial, at least in its opening phase. Others intend to stay for the entire 10 weeks that the case will run. Swedish Television, for example, has sent a large crew to cover the case, as has CNN, the BBC and several other international media outlets.
Given the large numbers of victims’ family members and the trauma they’ve suffered, an organization formed on their behalf was issuing them with stickers they can wear on their clothing that read “Please no interviews” in English, an effort to shield them from being approached by journalists.
Prosecutors plan to call 99 witnesses to testify during the course of the trial, while the defense is expected to call around 40, mostly in June, including several who lawyers believe can shed light on both right-wing, left-wing and religious extremism and ideology. They include Øyvind Strømmen, a journalist and expert on right-wing extremism; Bruce Bawer, an American author and critic of Islam; Carl I Hagen, the former head of the conservative Progress Party in Norway; and Mullah Krekar, the Islamic cleric currently in jail for making death threats. Also called is Stein Lillevold, a veteran anarchist now living in Copenhagen who said he’ll resist any subpoena to testify because he has never had anything to do with Breivik, has nothing to offer and considers the defense counsel’s witnesses as celebrities meant to stir up more media attention.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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