Norway's most famous killer wants better prison terms. A landmark court case by far-right nationalist Anders Breivik is putting the country's liberal correctional system to the test. Valeria Criscione reports from Oslo.
Far-right nationalist Anders Behring Breivik accused Norway of trying to effectively kill him during nearly five years of "humiliating treatment" in prison for murder, highlighting his more than 800 strip searches. He spent much of Wednesday's near three-hour testimony whittling away at claims by the government attorneys that he had substantial letter correspondence with the outside world and professional contact and activities within prison to mitigate his isolation.
"It would be more humane to shoot me rather than treat me like an animal," he said from a makeshift courtroom in the gymnasium of Skien prison, where the case is being held for security reasons. "This is a dishonorable execution maneuver."
The self-proclaimed political leader of the "Nordic State Party" is currently serving 21 years in preventive detention for killing 77, mostly teens, during a deadly bomb blast at the government headquarters in Oslo and subsequent shooting spree at the Labor Party youth (AUF) summer camp on the island of Utoya on July 22, 2011.
He is suing the Norwegian government in Oslo District Court for alleged inhumane prison treatment in violation of articles 3 and 8 of the European Declaration of Human Rights, which prohibit degrading treatment in prison and protect inmates' rights to a private life. He wants an easing of his prison conditions to allow for more mail and visits. He has also asked for the right to publish his two books as part of his long-term plans to peacefully promote "national socialism," more commonly referred to as Nazism.
"I have said that I am willing to apologize to Labor and AUF and not continue the fight, if the state allows national socialist parties," he said.
An additional punishment
Now 37 and visibly paler Breivik has sat in isolation since 2011 in two different Norwegian maximum-security prisons, at Ila and Skien, - twice the longest recorded isolation period in Norwegian criminal history. He appeared in public Tuesday for the first time since his 2012 sentencing brandishing a shaved head and dark suit, platinum tie, white pocket square and unmade shirt cuffs against the backdrop of a rock-climbing wall and basketball hoop.
Breivik's only personal contact without beign behind protective glass has been with professionals at the two prisons. The only exception was for five brief minutes to hug his mother before she died, according to his attorney Oystein Storrvik. He argued in his opening statement Tuesday that the lengthy isolation period of nearly five years had been damaging to Breivik, citing frequent strip searches, overuse of handcuffs, mail censorship, lack of visitors and separation from other inmates.
Storrvik underlined that the Norwegian state likely expects Breivik to remain in prison for the rest of his life. Though Breivik is sitting out a 21-year sentence, the state can lengthen his prison time with indefinite five-year extensions. This is an "important backdrop," he said, adding that the government had an additional responsibility for his treatment because it does not have a death penalty.
"It should not be an additional punishment," said Storrvik.
The government attorneys countered that Breivik has not suffered from isolation, with only two reported incidents of a temporary period of "isolation-related headaches" and memory loss. They said the inmate had also denied some offered recreation activities, such as floorball and chess, made difficult demands that discouraged visits from family and the media and had widespread correspondence privileges.
Over the course of his prison stay, Breivik had received some 4,000 letters with only about 600 - 15 percent - blocked, according to Adele Matheson Mestad, one of the two government attorneys. Breivik countered Wednesday that the number of letters was much lower and that 200 of his mail requests for visitors were stopped.
These controls were necessary "safety concerns for society," given his attempts to establish contact with neo-Nazi groups and the ambition expressed in his 2011 political manifesto to use prison as a way to further his nationalist cause, said Mestad. "It only takes one Breivik to kill 77 people. The government's job is to prevent a new Breivik from happening."
"He is in short a very dangerous man," added Marius Emberland, the lead government attorney in the case.
Emberland went on to list Breivik's numerous perks at the prison, including his regular telephone contact - which he recently decided to end - and access to newspapers, television, DVDs, a Playstation 2 console and a personal computer to help pursue his political studies at the University of Oslo from his study cell. He also has separate living and exercise cells and possibilities to make food. He even participated in a gingerbread house competition.
But some level of discomfort was to be expected, Emberland pointed out: "It is uncomfortable and is supposed to be uncomfortable."
No sign of isolation
Randi Rosenqvist, the forensic psychiatrist in the 2012 court case, testified Wednesday that Breivik did not show any physical signs of isolation. With his psychological history, she said, that would have materialized in the form of apathy, sleep disruption, and loss of appetite.
Rosenqvist has previously diagnosed Breivik with personality disorders, but not psychosis, supporting his wish to be found legally sane for his criminal trial.
"Well, he is here after all," she said, regarding Breivik's claims that he has become apathetic. "We can say that he has had a relatively even humor and verbalizes his needs. But we can't expect that he will tell us about his dissocial dangerous thoughts."
The civil court case will conclude at the end of the week after testimony from six more witnesses, primarily medical and prison professionals. A decision by the judge is expected to take weeks, but will not mark the end of Breivik's judicial pilgrimage.
His attorney has already forewarned that they will appeal to the Norwegian Supreme Court and even take the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, if necessary.