COPENHAGEN, Denmark – Norway did not violate the human rights of mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik by isolating him in jail, an appeals court ruled Wednesday, overturning a lower court ruling from last year.
The Borgarting Court of Appeal says Breivik, who is serving a 21-year sentence for killing 77 people in a 2011 bomb-and-shooting rampage, “has not been subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment.” It said the conditions for his incarceration were “not in violation” of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Incarceration in a high-security prison “entails an element of suffering and humiliation,” the court said. “However such special safety measures may be required. This particularly applies to some dangerous prisoners to prevent, for instance, escape, violence or prison disturbances.”
“Isolation from other inmates coupled with tight control are examples of such security measures,” the court said.
Breivik had sued the Norwegian government, saying his solitary confinement, frequent strip searches and the fact that he was often handcuffed during the early part of his incarceration violated his human rights. He is held in isolation in a three-cell complex where he can play video games, watch TV and exercise. He has also complained about the quality of the prison food, having to eat with plastic utensils and not being able to communicate with sympathizers.
The government had rejected his complaints, saying he is treated humanely despite the severity of his crimes and adding that he was being separated from other inmates for his own safety reasons.
Defense lawyer Oystein Storrvik said after Wednesday’s ruling that Breivik would now appeal to Norway’s top court — the Supreme Court — and possibly to the European Court of Human Rights.
“It’s natural to appeal this case and keep on working to break off the isolation,” Storrvik said, adding Breivik hadn’t met or seen any other prisoner since his arrest.
Breivik does have a weekly meeting with a priest with whom he can have confidential conversations.
“Breivik has been a dangerous prisoner throughout the 5.5 years, and he still is a very dangerous prisoner,” said Fredrik Sejersted who represented the Norway at the trial, where he sought to show that Breivik does have meaningful human contact on a daily basis.
Breivik, 37, told during the trial held in the gym at the prison in Skien, 85 miles southwest of the capital, Oslo, that his solitary confinement in prison has deeply damaged him and made him even more radical in his neo-Nazi beliefs.
The court said in its ruling that Breivik appears “as strongly influenced as ever by his right-wing political universe,” adding he still could inspire people in right-wing circles to commit acts of violence.
“His desire to build network with like-minded must be considered in this light,” the court wrote.
It added there still was “a risk for violence and threats” against Breivik.
Last year, the Norwegian government appealed a lower court ruling that Breivik’s isolation in prison violated his human rights.
Breivik had meticulously planned the deadly July 22, 2011, attacks, setting off a car bomb outside the government headquarters in Oslo, killing eight people and wounding dozens. He then drove to the island of Utoya, 25 miles away, where he opened fire on the annual summer camp of the left-wing Labor Party’s youth wing. Sixty-nine people there were killed, most of them teenagers, before Breivik surrendered to police.
JAN M. OLSEN