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Mass murderer Breivik sues Norway over inhumane treatment

In a landmark case that will test the practices of the country's correctional system, Norwegian authorities have agreed to allow a human rights complaint by the mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik to proceed.

In a landmark case that will test the practices of the country's correctional system, Norwegian authorities have agreed to allow a human rights complaint by the mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik to proceed.

The Norwegian right-wing extremist has sat isolated in high security prisons since killing 77 people – mostly children -- in unprecedented twin terror attacks in 2011.

He has sued the Norwegian government for breaching Articles 3 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights prohibiting inhuman treatment and torture in prison, primarily because of his extreme isolation. Øystein Storrvik, Breivik's attorney, said the aim of the civil suit is to get better prison conditions via more contact with other people and less isolation.

“He's only had contact with his mother a short time before she died,” Storrvik said in an interview before the start of a planning meeting in Oslo District Court. “That is the only situation where he got what we call normal human contact. Everything else has been with professionals in prison.”

“I have worked with many other clients in Norway that have had very severe regimes, but far, far from this. This is exceptional in Norwegian [history], but this is also an exceptional case.”

Breivik a victim?

Utoya Sommercamp 4 Jahre nach Breivik

The Utoya summer camp opened again for the first time in four years this summer

The self-proclaimed militant nationalist is serving a 21-year sentence for detonating a deadly car bomb outside Oslo government headquarters and later driving to the island of Utøya to gun down Labor Party youth members at their annual summer camp because of the party's “pro-multicultural policies.”

The first point discussed in a planning meeting with civil affairs attorney Marius Emberland, from the Norwegian Attorney General's office, was whether Breivik should be permitted to attend his own court case scheduled in Oslo District Court for March 15-18 of next year. Alternatively, he could participate via video link from Skien maximum security prison, which was the state's preference.

Storrvik argued strongly for Breivik's court presence, at the very least during his own witness testimony, to visibly show how his client had been “damaged” by his prison treatment and also to avoid even more “extreme special handling” than Breivik has already received. An eventual decision will be taken after consultation with the prison authorities.

“You ought to meet him,” he told judge Helen Andenæs Sekulic, who has supported the idea of Breivik appearing in court. “Others would have been brought in.”

Breivik has the possibility for five-year extensions past his 21 years in protective custody if he is further deemed a danger to society. Norway prides itself on its correctional focus on rehabilitation and low rate of recidivism. However, few believe that he will ever be set free and have questioned a recent decision to allow him to pursue studies from prison at the University of Oslo.

Healing the scars

Norwegen Ausstellung Anschläge des Rechtsextremisten Breivik in Oslo

The memorial exhibit displayed some of Breivik's belongings

His case also represents an emotional issue for the country. Norwegians have only recently come closer to healing from the nation's worst peacetime tragedy since the Second World War. The Labor Party youth group camped at Utøya in August for the first time since the attacks, shortly after the opening of a stark July 22 memorial exhibit in the former bombed out section of the government building.

“Of course it hurts to see him in the media,” said Eskil Pedersen, former Labor Party youth leader in 2011, during the memorial opening. “But a lot of us don't care about it. He's locked up in jail. We take some pride in not changing our system because of him. So okay, he goes to university, but he won't leave prison and he won't get to use it for anything.”

It is not yet certain whether prison authorities will support Breivik attending his court case. As a preparatory measure, Storrvik requested that courtroom 250 - which was purpose-built in 2012 to handle the extreme security considerations and large media and public attendance for his criminal trial - be reserved for the civil court case in March.

In the meantime, Breivik's legal team has started to draft a wish list of possible witnesses. Storrvik told the judge he would like to call Randi Rosenqvist, the forensic psychiatrist who deemed Breivik sane in his criminal trial, as well as prison employees who have witnessed his day-to-day treatment as well as a superior overseeing his case. Breivik has likened his prison treatment to torture, not only because of his exceptional isolation, but frequent body searches, among other things.

“That I as his attorney am not allowed to sit with him, I find interesting,” Storrvik told the judge, referring to the mandatory glass wall during his visits. “We want him to have better conditions - whether he sits in high security or not.”

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