Mass killer Anders Breivik made a Nazi salute as he returned to court in an effort to improve his conditions inside the prison where he is held in isolation for massacring 77 people in bomb-and-gun attacks that shocked Norway in 2011.
Appearing in the public eye for the first time on Tuesday since his conviction nearly four years ago, the 37-year-old Norwegian and his lawyers tried 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.
In a dark suit with a shaved head, Breivik was led into the gym-turned-courtroom in Skien prison, where the trial is being held for security reasons.
After prison guards removed his handcuffs, he turned to journalists covering the hearing and stretched out his right arm in a Nazi salute. Stony-faced, he remained there for a few seconds as guards stood idle and his lawyer Oystein Storrvik nervously took a sip of water.
Many survivors and families of victims have tried to ignore the trial, fearing it could reopen emotional wounds. They don’t want Breivik to get any more attention. Still, some watched a retransmission of the proceedings from a court in Oslo.
“It’s pathetic, it’s a farce,” said Lisbeth Royneland, whose 18-year-old daughter, Synne, was killed in Breivik’s rampage on Utoya island. She now heads a support group for survivors and the bereaved.
In violence that shocked Norway on July 22, 2011, Breivik set off a bomb in Oslo’s government district and then carried out the massacre at the annual summer camp of the left-wing Labor Party’s youth organisation on Utoya.
He was sentenced to 21 years in prison, the maximum under Norwegian law, but his term can be extended as long as he is considered a danger to society. Even his lawyer said on Tuesday that means Breivik is likely to be imprisoned for the rest of his life.
During his criminal trial four years ago, Breivik entered the court with his own salute, using 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 had abandoned his armed struggle and now wanted to create a fascist movement while serving his sentence.
Before the hearing started, 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.
“That is what we want because the conditions are hard now,” Storrvik told the Associated Press news agency.
Breivik is held as the only inmate in a high-security wing of Skien prison, about 100km southwest of Oslo. He is allowed some mail correspondence, but it is strictly controlled and he is not allowed to communicate with other right-wing extremists.
The government said the restrictions were well within the human rights convention, and were needed to make sure Breivik wasn’t able to build extremist networks from prison.
Breivik is set 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.
|Norway massacre survivor returns as Utoya camp reopens|