Reaction continues to pour in after a Norwegian judge ruled that mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik’s prison conditions have indeed violated at least some of his human rights. The reaction ranged from surprise to characteristic restraint and acceptance, at least here in Norway, where even some survivors of Breivik’s attacks were shaking their heads over the outrage and vitriol that rolled in from abroad.
“It seems like many Americans and other foreigners have problems understanding how the Norwegian court system functions,” Bjørn Ihler, one of those who survived Breivik’s massacre of young Labour Party summer campers, told newsaper Aftenposten on Thursday. He was referring to the anger and outrage reflected in comments posted on social media and websites, including this one, by people accustomed to a system where prisoners arguably lose their rights, and where prison terms are motivated more by revenge than rehabilitation.
“I think it’s important to point out that this verdict is supported by international law through the European Convention on Human rights,” Ihler said. Even after experiencing the horror of Breivik’s massacre on Utøya, and seeing young friends get shot, Ihler maintains that if the Norwegian courts were to strip Breivik of his human rights and his right to life itself, they would be “dancing” to Breivik’s own tones.
“Then we’d be following the same logic as his,” Ihler said, “and we can’t let our society stoop to such a low level as that of a terrorist.”
Per Anders Thorvik Langerød, who also survived Breivik’s bullets on the cold and rainy afternoon of July 22, 2011, agreed. “This verdict shows that everyone who though the case was a parody for even coming up in court was wrong,” Langerød told Aftenposten. “We have to listen to complaints like this and test them out. The worst thing that could have happened was to fall to the temptation of not treating him in a legal manner.”
Understand the disappointment
Both Ihler and Langerød said they do understand that many people, both Norwegians and foreigners, are disappointed and angry over the verdict, including other survivors and the parents and loved ones of the 77 people killed by Breivik. Lisbeth Kristine Røyneland, who heads the national survivors’ group and lost a daughter on Utøya, was among those “surprised and disappointed” and she still doesn’t think Breivik’s human rights have been violated, “given the heinous crimes he committed.” She was pleased that state prosecutors prevailed in ensuring that the 37-year-old ultra right-wing extremist will remain subject to strict control of his communication with the outside world.
Eskil Pedersen, the former leader of the Labour Party youth group AUF that was Breivik’s target, also said he was angered by the verdict. He’s been criticized for escaping the massacre on the island’s only ferry while others were being shot at, but remains active in the party. He told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) and other media that the verdict felt like he’d been “punched in the gut,” while stressing that he supports Breivik’s right to have his case heard.
Viljar Hanssen, who survived Breivik’s attacks ever after being shot through an eye but lost his best friends, said he also felt “immediate phyical pain” upon hearing the verdict. Now age 22, the young man from Svalbard in the Arctic also said he believes everyone must have a fair trial he told NRK he was “proud” of the Norwegian court system, yet his feelings were clearly mixed: “When the Norwegian state also has to pay for what amounted to a PR show for the perpetrator, perhaps things have gone too far. It feels like they (the judges) are giving more consideration to the perpetrator than to his victims after awhile.” He also added, on national radio Thursday morning, that the judges in this case were perhaps “a bit too politically correct.”
The man many refuse to name
Like many others in Norway, from top politicians to survivors and families of victims, Hanssen refuses to call Breivik by his name. Many want to forget him and hope he’ll disappear from the media. Reactions were therefore also mixed over whether the state should appeal its partial defeat in the case. Breivik’s attorney has stated that his client will not appeal the portion of the case he lost, so the case could stop there unless the state decides to challenge the court decision itself.
Newspaper Aftenposten editorialized on Thursday that the state should appeal, for example on the grounds of the court’s “weak” basis for ruling that the state prisons erred in keeping Breivik in isolation for too long. Judge Helen Andenæs Sekulic, writing for the court, believes Breivik must be allowed to mix with other prisoners, for example, as is common in Norwegian prisons. That also brought objections from another survivor of Breivik’s attacks who worried that Breivik could be attacked himself or even killed by a fellow prisoner. “You have to ask whether that’s what he wants,” Adrian Pracon told newspaper Aftenposten, “to have a martyr’s death.” A representative for prisoners at one of the two jails where Breivik is serving his time under the highest security measures available said on national radio Thursday morning that they don’t want any contact with him.
Newspaper Dagsavisen editorialized exactly the opposite of Aftenposten on Thursday, calling for the state to accept the verdict and drop an appeal, so the country can move on. It isn’t the first time the state has lost a case about violations of human rights, Strand argued, and there’s no guarantee it would win in an appeals court, setting of the possibility of even more court action that gives Breivik the attention he craves. His trial last month ripped open old wounds for many, and Strand called for the healing process to be allowed to proceed without further disruption.
“Let us be finished with this mass murderer’s cynical exploitation of the court system to promote his sick political ideas,” wrote Dagsavisen’s commentator Arne Strand on Thursday. “We have had enough of him now.” The state has four weeks to decide whether an appeal will be filed.