STOCKHOLM – It’s a tough pill to swallow for many survivors and families of victims that Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in gun and bomb attacks in 2011, gets another day in court, this time claiming to be a victim of human rights abuses.
Gone from the public eye for four years, Norway’s worst mass killer is suing the government over his solitary confinement, which he says is inhumane.
Some survivors will try to ignore the four-day trial starting Tuesday in a gym-turned-courtroom inside Skien prison, where Breivik is serving a 21-year sentence for terrorism and mass murder.
“I won’t read newspapers that week,” said Dag Andre Anderssen, who survived Breivik’s shooting massacre on the island of Utoya and is the deputy leader of a support group for survivors and the bereaved. “Most people will just try to get on with their lives and not be affected. But for some maybe traumas will come back.”
In violence that had seemed unfathomable in peaceful Norway, Breivik detonated a car bomb in Oslo’s government district before opening fire on a left-wing youth camp on Utoya on July 22, 2011.
Eight people were killed in the bombing and 69, mostly teenagers, died in the shooting massacre. Some were shot at point blank range as they pleaded for mercy; others drowned in a chilly lake as they fled the island in panic.
Describing himself as a patriot and militant nationalist, Breivik showed no remorse in his 2012 trial, where he dismissed the victims as traitors for supporting immigration.
He didn’t appeal his sentence, which can be extended for as long as he is considered a danger to society. But he soon started complaining about the restrictions he was facing in prison as the sole inmate of a high-security unit, where he has three cells at his disposal.
In letters to media Breivik accused prison officials of “low-intensity torture” for frequent strip searches and for keeping him in isolation and preventing him from establishing contacts with other right-wing extremists.
In 2013, he threatened to go on a hunger strike unless he got better video games, a sofa and a larger gym.
The lawsuit alleges that his prison conditions breach the European Convention on Human Rights. The government has rejected that claim, noting that Breivik moves freely among his three cells and has daily access to an exercise yard as well as a TV and a video game console.
“There is no evidence that the plaintiff has any physical or mental problems as a result of the prison conditions,” the government’s attorney, Marius Emberland, said in a pre-trial submission to the court.
Emberland said Breivik’s isolation and other restrictions are justified given his stated intention to use his prison time to build extremist networks. In an online manifesto posted before the attacks, Breivik wrote that “patriotic resistance fighters” should consider prisons as ” ‘training barracks’ from where we draw many of our forces.’ ”
Many foreign observers were stunned at how respectfully Norwegian authorities treated Breivik during the criminal trial, allowing him to read political statements and enter the courtroom with defiant clenched-fist salutes. Norwegian officials said it was important to give him the same rights as any other defendant, and even the survivors of his attacks largely agreed.
Anderssen, the Utoya survivor, called Breivik a “unique” inmate in Norway’s prison system, which is focused on rehabilitating rather than punishing criminals.
“They say that every society is measured by how they treat their prisoners so we will allow him to use the system, to try to use the system against us,” Anderssen said. “But I think the system will say that his conditions are as good as they can be.”