State appeals verdict on how Norway’s prison system treats a mass-murderer

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UPDATED: Norway’s Justice Ministry has decided to appeal a judge’s verdict that mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik’s prison conditions violate his human rights. Breivik’s attorney said he wasn’t surprised, and that his client may now appeal the portion of his complaint that he lose as well.

The prison where Breivik is being held, meanwhile, hasn’t made any changes in how staff treats him since the verdict was handed down last week. Breivik, convicted for killing 77 people in a bombing and shooting rampage nearly five years ago, was sentenced to Norway’s harshest prison term that can keep him confined for life.

Justice Minister Anders Anundsen announced on Tuesday that he had asked state prosecutors to file an appeal of Breivik’s partial victory, in accordance with the “professional advice” of government attorneys and in cooperation with state prison authorities. Several commentators had urged the state to drop an appeal, to avoid the trauma of another round of court action centered around the mass-murderer. Anundsen clearly felt he could not let the verdict stand.

Neither ‘inhuman’ nor ‘degrading treatment’
The state was acquitted of Breivik’s charges that the restrictions placed on his communications with the outside world also violated his human rights. That means any contact he does have with any visitors or through the mail will still be strictly controlled. He is not allowed Internet access, either, but Breivik’s attorney announced his client would not appeal that portion of the ruling.

The most important thing for Breivik, attorney Øystein Storrvik argued, was that he prevailed in his complaints about the terms of his high-security confinement. Now the state will be defending those terms once again, and taking steps to obtain full victory in court. Storrvik told state broadcaster NRK after the state’s appeal was announced that Breivik may do the same, and file an appeal of his communications restrictions after all.

Justice Minister Anundsen maintains that the terms of Breivik’s confinement do not, in the state’s opinion, constitute “inhuman or degrading treatment” under the terms of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. An Oslo city court judge had another legal interpretation, ruling that the strip searches and long periods of isolation to which Breivik has been subjected were unnecessary and in violation of the convention.

Anundsen indicated that the state’s appeal will be based on disagreement with both the lower court’s evaluation of what constitutes violation of a prisoner’s human rights and of the evidence presented.

Controversial
The verdict handed down by Judge Helen Andenæs Sekulic last week set off a storm of controversy both in Norway and abroad. Norway’s court- and prison systems have been widely branded as far too liberal, while the parents of many of Breivik’s young victims and several survivors of the attacks felt like they’d been “kicked in the gut,” like one survivor said.

That likely played into Anundsen’s decision to appeal. Neither Anundsen, prosecutors nor prison officials, however, wanted to comment further on the case or their appeal.

Prison officials, meanwhile, have not made any changes in the high-security regime around Breivik, which they maintain is necessary when confining a man viewed as “still very dangerous.” They confirmed last last week that the current terms of Breivik’s confinement would continue until a court verdict is no longer subject to appeal and its terms are put into force.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

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