Norway prepares for yet another Breivik trial
It attracted international attention when the Oslo District Court last spring sided with domestic terrorist Anders Behring Breivik’s contention that his prison conditions violate his human rights.
Now the court system will once again be asked to rule on Breivik’s conditions behind bars at the Skien prison, as the state’s appeal against the decision is scheduled to be heard by the Borgarting Court of Appeal on January 10th.
Breivik is serving a 21-year prison term -- which can be extended indefinitely -- for his attacks on Utøya and the Oslo government district on July 22nd, 2011, in which 77 people, mostly teenagers, were killed and a large number were seriously injured.
The 37-year-old sued the state of Norway for prison conditions that he says violate his human rights. In April, the Oslo District Court sided with the convicted terrorist's claims that being held in solitary confinement in the Skien prison violates his rights under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
However, the court ruled against the extremist on his claim that the strict controls on his correspondence also amounted to a violation of Article 8, which guarantees the right to a private life.
The Office of the Attorney General filed an appeal against the decision on the grounds that it disagreed with both the court's interpretation and the evidence presented in the case.
At the heart of the appeal will be the question of whether the Directorate of Norwegian Correctional Service (Kriminalomsorgen) has put security concerns above Breivik’s human rights during the mass murderer’s five and a half years in prison.
The Oslo District Court ruled that it did, pointing to extensive and prolonged isolation without adequate justification and insufficient regard to Breivik’s mental health.
The verdict also said that extensive use of strip searches, handcuffs and other various controls, in particular in the first years of Breivik’s sentence, amounted to degrading treatment.
“Correctional Services allowed security concerns to take the upper hand in the formation of Breivik’s atonement regime,” ruled Judge Helen Andenæs Sekulic.
Attorney Fredrik Sejersted, who is leading the case for the state in the Court of Appeal, strongly disagrees with the initial ruling, saying that the Oslo District Court had both "an improper approach" in assessing prison conditions and "made a strongly inadequate assessment of the evidence”.
Attorney Thomas Horn, who wrote his doctoral thesis on solitary confinement, said that it is difficult to determine just when a strict prison regime becomes a human rights violation.
“But strict security measures must be necessary and well justified, and alternatives must be considered,” he told NTB.
He said the Oslo District Court’s judgement has raised some important issues, regardless of the outcome of the appeal.
“The ruling raises questions about whether the prison’s leadership had the position that human rights supercede all other laws, and whether it managed to properly balance security against human rights considerations,” Horn said.
According to Breivik's lawyer Øystein Storrvik, the domestic terrorist’s prison conditions have been eased since the verdict. Breivik has been allowed to socialize more with prison guards, and a glass wall has been replaced with bars for meetings between the two men.
Norway prides itself on a humane prison system aimed more at rehabilitation than punishment, and Breivik's conditions are considered comfortable by most.
Breivik has three cells at the Skien Prison -- one for living, one for studying and one for physical exercise. He also has a TV with a DVD player, a games console, a typewriter, and books and newspapers.
The appeal case gets underway on January 10th and the Borgarting Court of Appeal has set aside six days to hear arguments.