UPDATED: An Oslo City Court has ruled at least partially in favour of mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik, declaring on Wednesday that the high-security conditions under which he’s serving his prison term have amounted at times to “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
The verdict upholds Breivik’s complaint that the terms of his confinement violated the European Convention of Human Rights, article 3. “The prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment represents a fundamental value in a democratic society,” the court ruled. “This applies no matter what, also in the treatment of terrorists and killers.”
Objections to isolation and strip searches
The court objected, for example, to the strip searches Breivik has been subjected to after being allowed time in the prison yard. The court also pointed to Breivik’s lengthy periods in isolation at both the Ila and Skien prisons, his limited opportunities to complain and a lack of justification for the isolation, even though Breivik is still considered to be a highly dangerous criminal who also must be protected from other prisoners.
The court further claimed that Breivik’s mental health had not been taken into adequate consideration when prison staff set the conditions under which he must serve. Court-appointed psychiatrists have claimed he’s afflicted with a narcissistic complex, among other ailments, but he was ruled capable of standing trial.
The court found no violations, however, of the human rights convention’s article 8, which claims that “everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life.” His communication with the outside world can continue to be restricted. The court ordered the state to cover Breivik’s legal costs in bringing his complaints to court. They amount to NOK 330,937.50 (around USD 40,000).
The verdict seemed to all but dismiss the testimony of psychiatrists who have examined Breivik while he’s been in prison. They claimed his complaints about life in prison, where he has three cells at his disposal, were invalid and driven by his own exaggerated feelings of self-importance. One of Norway’s most highly regarded psychiatrists, Dr Randi Rosenqvist, had testified that she found it “difficult to take his complaints seriously,” not least after he’d complained about being served cold coffee and getting headaches. She said he should simply “take a glass of water and a pill.”
Verdict by fax
Breivik received the verdict in the form of a fax delivered to him at the prison in Skien. The court reached its decision after a four-day trial held just before the Easter holidays last month that attracted international attention. Many legal observers and media commentators noted both before the trial and afterwards that the attention was just what Breivik wanted. The now pale and balding 37-year-old ultra-right-wing terrorist made it clear that he’s bored with his prison existence, and he seemed to thrive once again in the glare of cameras, seizing the opportunity to make yet another Nazi salute on his trial’s opening day.
The verdict delivered on Wednesday limited his grounds for an appeal that could provide him with more attention. That may actually disappoint Breivik, whose attorneys claimed early on that they would appeal a ruling against him all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. By deciding in his favour, there’s not much left for Breivik to complain about and his attorney, Øystein Storrvik, confirmed later on Wednesday that no appeal would be filed. “We won on the most important points, and therefore see no need for an appeal,” Storrvik told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). He refused to say how Breivik himself had reacted to the verdict.
It was not immediately clear, however, whether the state would appeal. Prosecutors, who had denied Breivik’s human rights had been violated, had claimed in court that Breivik was “still the same attention-hungry narcissist” that he was four years ago, when he killed 77 people in twin attacks in the Oslo area, and that he had made a mockery of the court. The case itself drew international attention not least because the state took it seriously, and made a point of respecting the rights even of a convicted mass killer. Now that a verdict has been delivered, prison staff may simply be instructed to make changes in Breivik’s prison conditions, and thus avoid more highly public trials.
Officials at the Ila and Skien prisons refused to comment on the verdict. Prosecutor Marius Emberland told NRK he was “surprised” by it and would now discuss with his client, the Justice Ministry, whether an appeal would be filed. He said he’d read through the verdict, and was “glad” the court agreed with the prosecution on several key points, “also that we have an independent court system.”
Justice Minister Anders Anundsen told NRK he could understand if Norwegians react negatively to the verdict, “but it’s important that not least this case is handled in a normal manner by our court system.” He referred other inquiries back to the prosecutor’s office. That may be an indication that the state just wants to bring the case to an end.
Diplomat’s son turned mass-murderer
Breivik, the son of a former Norwegian diplomat who grew up with his divorced mother on Oslo’s fashionable west side, was a former restless teenage tagger who never completed college, had trouble holding a job and eventually moved back home with his now-deceased mother, who reportedly catered to his every demand. According to the highly acclaimed book about Breivik by author Åsne Seierstad entitled One of us, he isolated himself in his bedroom and played computer games, often around the clock, while developing a hatred for immigrants, especially Muslims. He blamed the Labour Party government for promoting multiculturalism and allowing too many immigrants into the country, and ultimately decided to attack both the government and the next generation of Labour Party politicians.
He embarked on a deadly rampage on July 22, 2011, when he bombed Norway’s government headquarters in Oslo and then carried out a massacre on the island of Utøya, site of a Labour Party youth summer camp. Eight people were killed in the bombings and 69 in the massacre, with hundreds more injured and billions of kroner worth of damage inflicted. It will take years before the government complex is rebuilt.
Breivik was sentenced in August 2012 to Norway’s harshest sentence, 21 years of special custody called forvaring that can keep him in prison for life. Parents of his victims, survivors of his attacks and commentators including national librarian Aslak Sira Myhre have since called for him to be sentenced to “invisibility,” expressing a hope that he won’t have cause for more court appearances and that the media will be able to ignore him.