The young Norwegian man who bombed Norway’s government headquarters and then gunned down scores of young Labour Party members on the island of Utøya in 2011, is back in court this week. He still claims his own human rights are being violated because he remains held in isolation.
Anders Behring Breivik is now 44 years old and spends his time in combination of cells spread over two floors of the modern high-security Ringerike Prison near Hønefoss. It’s located just across the fjord from the island of Utøya, where he set off a massacre that killed 69 people and injured hundreds more.
Breivik murdered a total of 77 people in his ultra-right-wing terrorist attacks, which targeted those he held responsible for allowing too many immigrants into Norway. He refrained from making a Nazi greeting upon arrival in the makeshift courthouse, set up in the prison’s own gymnasium, but court-appointed psychiatrists and prosecutors claim he remains just as dangerous now as he was in 2011.
It would also be dangerous, they contend, to allow him to mingle with other prisoners or allow him visitors other than his defense attorney, prison staff, some Red Cross volunteers and three parakeets he’s allowed to have as pets. He was sentenced to Norway’s lengthiest prison term, which is widely expected to keep him confined for life.
Despite prison accommodation that includes his own kitchen, bathroom, exercise room with training equipment, a TV- and dining room, Breivik complains that the lack of more human contact violates his human rights. He claims his first 12 years in isolation are enough, while prison officials point out that he has more space than anyone else at the Norwegian prison, all of which tend to be much more accommodating that most prisons in other countries. Prosecutors, meanwhile, claim Breivik has shown little sign of any rehabilitation “and it’s difficult to see how his prison conditions could be relaxed in a manner that would be responsible and defensible.”
He’s tried and failed twice before to gain more access to other people, and even to be released on probation. Live media coverage of his appearances and statements in court this time have been restricted by court officials also keen to limit any attempt to spread his ideology. That’s prompted complaints by some commentators who think press freedom is thus being limited, while state broadcaster NRK has stated it doesn’t want to give him an opportunity to “communicate his ideology” and will instead focus on the legal arguments presented. They include Breivik’s attorney’s allegations that the isolation has damaged his mental health and even made him suicidal.
Survivors of his attacks, and especially the parents of those he killed, say they’re tired of Breivik’s frequent appeals and what they view as his attempts to grab more attention. Lisbeth Røyneland, whose daughter was shot and killed by Breivik, has led a national support group after July 22 and notes, however, that Norway’s legal system “is just doing its job” in handling Breivik’s latest appeal, “and we just have to respect that.”