SKIEN, NORWAY – Mass killer Anders Behring Breivik kicked off his return to court by making a Nazi salute Tuesday during his bid to improve conditions inside the Norwegian prison where he is being held in isolation for massacring 77 people in bomb-and-gun attacks.
Appearing in the public eye for the first time since his conviction nearly four years ago, the 37-year-old Norwegian and his lawyers are trying to convince a judge that his prison conditions are “inhuman” and violate the European Convention on Human Rights.
The government has rejected his claims, saying he is being treated humanely and with dignity despite the severity of his crimes.
With a dark suit and a shaved head, Breivik was led into the gym-turned-courtroom in Skien prison, where the trial is being held for security reasons. After guards removed his handcuffs, Breivik turned to journalists and stretched out his right arm in a Nazi salute.
In violence that stunned Norway on July 22, 2011, Breivik set off a bomb in Oslo’s government district and then carried out a shooting massacre at the summer camp of the left-wing Labor Party’s youth organization on Utoya island. He was sentenced to 21 years in prison, the maximum under Norwegian law, but his term can be extended as long as he’s considered a danger to society. Even his lawyer said Tuesday that means Breivik is likely to be imprisoned for the rest of his life.
Many survivors and families of victims are trying to ignore this new trial, fearing it could reopen emotional wounds and give Breivik the attention he apparently desires. Still, some watched a retransmission of the proceedings from a courthouse in Oslo.
“It’s pathetic. It’s a farce,” said Lisbeth Royneland, whose 18-year-old daughter, Synne, was killed in Breivik’s shooting massacre. She now heads a support group for survivors and the bereaved.
Before the hearing started Tuesday, lawyer Oystein Storrvik said the goal of the case was to improve Breivik’s prison conditions, including allowing to him to interact with other prisoners and removing some restrictions on his mail correspondence.
Breivik is the only inmate in a high-security wing of Skien prison, 100 kilometers (60 miles) southwest of Oslo. He is allowed some mail correspondence but it is strictly controlled and he’s not allowed to communicate with other right-wing extremists.
The government says the restrictions are well within the European Convention of Human Rights and are needed to make sure Breivik isn’t able to build militant extremist networks from prison.
“The plaintiff has not shown any sign of remorse,” government attorney Marius Emberland said in his opening remarks. “Breivik is a very dangerous man.”
Emberland said Breivik has three cells at his disposal, one for sleeping, one for studying and one for working out. He also has daily access to an exercise yard.
Emberland said prison officials are trying to mitigate Breivik’s isolation by offering to have him take part in activities with prison staff such as playing chess. Breivik has declined many of those offers, though he did build a gingerbread house as part of a prison competition, he said.
Norwegian authorities, known for their humanitarian approach to criminal justice, stress that Breivik has the same rights as any other inmate to challenge his imprisonment conditions.
“He is a citizen of Norway and even though he is convicted for a horrible crime, he hasn’t lost his human rights,” said Ina Stromstad, a judge serving as a spokeswoman for the Olso district court.
Breivik is to address the court on Wednesday. Both sides will call witnesses to testify before closing arguments on Friday. The judgment is expected about a month later.
During his criminal trial four years ago, Breivik entered the court with a clenched fist instead of the outstretched hand that the Nazis used to greet Adolf Hitler. At the time Breivik described himself as a modern-day crusader, fighting to protect Norway and Europe from Muslim immigration.
In letters sent to the media from prison, Breivik said he has abandoned his armed struggle and now wants to create a fascist movement while serving his sentence.