The leader of Norway’s national support group for victims of a right-wing extremist who murdered 77 people on July 22, 2011 has called his upcoming court case against the state “absurd.” The group has sent an email to the hundreds of members in the group, warning them to “shield themselves” from media coverage of his trial next month.
Lisbeth Kristine Røyneland, whose daugher Synne was among those gunned down by Anders Behring Breivik when he attacked a Labour Party youth camp, went on national radio Thursday morning, urging others who lost loved ones or were injured in the attacks to brace themselves for the prospect of Breivik being back in the news.
‘Can be difficult’
“The wounds haven’t healed yet, and it can be difficult for many people to have to see or hear about the terrorist again,” Røyneland told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). She repeated claims that she and many other members in the National Support Group after the July 22 attacks think it’s “sad” that Breivik continues to grab media attention.
He’s attracting it once again after filing suit against the Norwegian state, claiming that the terms of his imprisonment violate his human rights. Breivik was sentenced to Norway’s maximum sentence of 21 years with special custody terms that can keep him confined for life to protect the public from him. He’s also been held in isolation for a variety of reasons, including a need to protect him from being attacked by fellow prisoners or others.
The state agreed to hear his complaint, with his trial to be held in the gymnasium of the prison in Skien where he’s now being held. It’s scheduled to run over four days with media coverage that Røyneland claims will be hard for his victims’ families to bear. “We’ll just have to shield ourselves from it as much as possible,” she told NRK.
Media obligated to cover the trial
Media officials, not least state broadcaster NRK itself, have claimed they feel an obligation to cover the trial because of the issues it raises about human rights and how state authorities carry out their power. NRK editor Stein Bjøntegård noted Thursday morning that “even the worst criminal” has a right to be protected under the law, with the media obligated to cover alleged violations of such rights.
He and other media executives in Norway are acutely aware of the sensitivity of the Breivik case, however, and the controversy over how a young man who didn’t show much regard for the human rights of his 77 victims should receive such consideration for his own. In a public opinion poll carried out by website Nettavisen last fall, fully 85 percent of the 31,000 voting online answered “yes” to the question as to whether Breivik deserved tougher custody conditions than other prisoners. Only 11 percent answered “no” and 4 percent were undecided.
Bjøntegard suggested NRK may restrain the extent of its coverage and drop any live broadcasts from the courtroom. Røyneland said she understood that the media couldn’t ignore the trial, but stressed “this is his court case, not our court case” this time, setting it apart from the lengthy trial over the attacks themselves that attracted vast international media coverage.
“I think this entire case is completely absurd, pure and simple,” Røyneland said. “He has sued the state, but the state, which is us, was the victim. It’s really very strange.” Others have also noted that it’s “absurd” to portray Breivik as a victim himself, including a commentator for NRK, but the case is nonetheless viewed as another test of Norway’s prison system and regard for human rights.
For a lengthy analysis of the upcoming trial, compiled and recently published in English by Oslo-based newspaper Aftenposten, click here.