Norway’s Most Notorious Mass Murderer Convinced a Judge Norway Is Violating Human Rights
Anders Breivik, who murdered 77 people in 2011, is winning a court case against Norway.
Anders Behring Breivik, the right-wing extremist serving prison time for murdering 77 people in Norway in 2011, had a lot of time on his hands in solitary confinement. So he prepared a court case arguing that his isolation in a prison, where he is able to remotely enroll in university courses and watch television, violates European human rights.
And now he’s winning.
On Wednesday, Judge Helen Andenaes Sekulic said that even murderers and terrorists deserve the right to humane treatment, which she called “a fundamental value in a democratic society.”
His lawyer, Oystein Storrvik, has since called for Breivik to be removed from solitary confinement, where Breivik claims he is left alone for 22 to 23 hours a day and speaks only to prison staff through a barrier.
Breivik, Norway’s most notorious mass murderer, is serving a 21-year sentence that will probably be extended so long as he is considered a threat to society.
But Sekulic said Wednesday that the 37-year-old’s treatment differs so greatly from other Norwegians held in prison that it could be interpreted as additional punishment and prison officials need to do more to level his negative experiences in solitary confinement. One detail the judge was particularly concerned about was how Breivik was subjected to strip searches that woke him up regularly and disrupted him from getting a good night’s sleep. In some instances, female officers were present, which she said could violate the European Convention on Human Rights.
“Taken together with the other stringent restrictions which he was subject, this was regarded as degrading treatment,” she said Wednesday.
Marius Emberland, the lawyer representing Norway, said he has not yet decided whether or not he will appeal the decision. Both sides have four weeks to try for an appeal; otherwise, the prison will be required to amend Breivik’s confinement. Under Sekulic’s ruling, Breivik will also be reimbursed by the state for his court costs, which ran some $40,000.
Wednesday’s verdict did not give Breivik everything he wanted. According to the judge, strictly controlling his correspondence is in line with Norway’s laws, and his treatment may be inhuman but did not violate his right to privacy and family life. But it does set a precedent for other solitary confinement cases. The U.N. Committee Against Torture has spent decades urging governments to stop placing prisoners in total isolation, and in 2011, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture said it could “amount to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.”
It would be hard to really please Breivik, though. This is the same man who in 2012 complained that his coffee was being served too cold and that the prison authorities weren’t letting him use moisturizer on his dry skin. And after he was given permission to remotely enroll in university courses, he claimed the stress of solitary confinement wasn’t allowing him to excel.
If the state decides not to appeal and he is approved to move out of solitary, maybe that will appease him — until he finds something else to complain about, of course.