Breivik testimony packs courtrooms

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Norway’s home-grown right-wing terrorist and mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik was allowed three hours to testify on Wednesday as to why he thinks his prison conditions violate his human rights. In addition to attracting the media, his testimony was also drawing some survivors of his attacks nearly five years ago and parents of teenagers Breivik killed, while the vast majority were staying away.

The civil lawsuit filed against the state by mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik is taking place in the gymnasium of the prison where he's being held in Skien, southwest of Oslo. It has attracted widespread but relatively restrained media coverage in Norway, out of consideration for the hundreds of victims and survivors of Breivik's attacks on July 22, 2011. State broadcaster NRK, for example, limited TV coverage to just the first 10 minutes of court proceedings on opening day. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

The civil lawsuit filed against the Norwegian state by mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik is taking place in the gymnasium of the prison where he’s being held in Skien, southwest of Oslo, under high security. It has attracted broad but relatively restrained media coverage in Norway, out of consideration for the hundreds of victims and survivors of Breivik’s attacks on July 22, 2011. State broadcaster NRK, for example, limited its TV coverage to just the first 10 minutes of court proceedings on opening day. The rest of it played out on the Internet, so those interested would actively have to seek it out. The front pages of several of Norwegian newspapers displayed no photos of Breivik on Wednesday, while Aftenposten, for example, only included a small picture at the bottom of the page showing the pale and now balding Breivik with his back turned to the camera. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

“The court case is a parody, I think it’s idiotic,” Freddy Lie, the 55-year-old father of one daughter killed by Breivik and another critically wounded, told newspaper VG. Even though Lie doesn’t think Breivik deserves to have his civil suit against the state heard, he still wanted to follow the proceedings that are taking place in the gymnasium of the prison in Skien where the convicted bomber and gunman is being held. The proceedings are also being transmitted via videolink to a large courtroom in Oslo.

“It’s impossible to shield myself from the coverage in the media, then I’d have to travel someplace where there’s no TV, radio, newspapers or Internet,” Lie told VG. “I don’t want to do that. It’s better to be in place myself, then I can win back control.”

Most of those who either survived Breivik’s attacks on Norway’s government headquarters and a Labour Party youth camp on July 22, 2011, or lost loved ones, don’t want to be in the same room with the now-37-year-old man who killed 77 people in the space of a few hours and wounded hundreds more. The leader of the victims’ and survivors’ support group, Lisbeth Kristine Røyneland, said around 10 of the group’s members would attend the proceedings that are running for four days this week.

She described the court case as “surreal,” telling VG that “there he sits and whines over his own prison conditions, while we sit here and have lost our children, are traumatized and have great sorrow.” Like many others, though, Røyneland said she understands why the court case must be carried out. “It’s also important for us that he not be handled in any special way, because that’s just what he wants,” said Røyneland, whose 18-year-old daughter Synne was among those shot and killed by Breivik at the Labour Party summer camp because he blamed Labour for allowing too many immigrants into Norway when they held government power.

No new Nazi greeting
As the second day of Breivik’s lawsuit got underway on Wednesday, he refrained from making the Nazi greeting he resorted to when his handcuffs were removed on opening day. The judge in the case had asked him at the end of Tuesday’s opening arguments not to make such a gesture again, to which he responded that it was simply an old norse greeting “that your own forefathers used a thousand years ago.” His own attorney, Øystein Storrvik, had told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Tuesday that making such a gesture was “the worst thing” that could be done in a courtroom, though, and Breivik apparently got the message.

NRK reported that he was well-prepared for his day in court on Wednesday, having written a lengthy document that he intended to read as he argued his case. His testimony was not allowed to be aired, however, and broadcasting signals from the Skien courtroom were cut at 9am just after the judge took her seat. Court officials banned the broadcasting, which normally is prohibited in other cases as well, for fear Breivik would send coded signals to potential followers of his racist ideology. It would be up to the judge to determine whether he’d be allowed to testify about his ideology and politics in connection with his prison conditions.

State attorneys had argued on opening day that Breivik remained a “very dangerous man” and that it therefore was “absolutely necessary” that he serve his prison term under high security that includes disputed isolation. They noted, however, that he has human contact every day, mostly with prison staff, and is offered books, newspapers, TV, exercise facilities and TV games including Playstation. Before the trial began, court officials and lawyers inspected the three-room cells where he’s been held.

Breivik’s lawyers, on the other hand, argue that their client is suffering from the isolation, restrictions on communications, strip searches, alleged overuse of handcuffs and censorship of letters that they contend violate his human rights. Storrvik went so far as to claim that the conditions under which Breivik was serving his maximum jail sentence of 21 years, with possibility that it be extended, were worse than if he’d been handed a death sentence

From tagger to terrorist
Breivik, who grew up with his divorced mother and absentee diplomat father on Oslo’s affluent west side, has been described as a formerly troubled teenager who went from being a convicted tagger to a neatly dressed if short-term member of Norway’s conservative Progress Party with a track record of unsuccessful business start-ups. State attorneys warned on Tuesday that Breivik’s own testimony can’t be accepted as being true: “He has a pragmatic relation to the truth,” state attorney Marius Emberland said in court. “He will distort the truth if he believes it’s important in putting forth his political message.”

Court-appointed psychiatrist Randi Rosenqvist, who has evaluated Breivik, was scheduled to testify later in the day. Her testimony was deemed important in determining, from a professional standpoint, whether he’s indeed suffering from the conditions of his confinement.

Erik Kursetgjerde, who survived Breivik’s massacre by swimming away from the island where the Labour Party summercamp was being held, was also among those following the day’s proceedings from the courtroom in Oslo. “For me and many of my friends, the most important thing is to signal that we want legal principles to apply,” Kursetgjerde, now age 22, told VG. He warned of rising right-wing extremism back in 2012 and said he’s frustrated by signs of greater fear of foreigners in Norway.

The court case now playing out, he said, “can show that Norway is an open democracy with human rights that apply to everyone. Respect for our values must be shown by actions. That’s why it’s important this court case run its course.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund