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Norwegian Mass Murderer Wins Human Rights Case For His Treatment in Prison

Anders Breivik, a right-wing extremist who killed 77 people during a July 2011 attack, alleged that his treatment in Norway's relatively comfortable prisons constituted was degrading.

by Tess Owen
Apr 20 2016, 4:15pm

Anders Behring Breivik in court in Skien prison, Norway, March 18, 2016. Photo by Lise Aserud/EPA

The Norwegian mass murderer who killed 77 people and gave the Nazi salute during his trial has just won part of the human rights case that he brought against the state.

Anders Breivik, a right-wing extremist who in July 2011 staged the worst act of terrorism in the country's history, alleged that his treatment in prison constituted "inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

On Monday, a district court in Oslo acknowledged that Breivik had been held in solitary confinement for almost five years since his arrest and that such treatment violated an article in the European convention on human rights. The court also ruled that authorities had neglected to take Breivik's mental health into account when they relegated him to solitary confinement.

"The prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment represents a fundamental value in a democratic society," the court wrote in their ruling. "This applies no matter what also in the treatment of terrorists and killers."

In his complaint, Breivik also alleged excessive use of handcuffs; that he's been forced to strip a total of 880 times while a prisoner; and that he's often woken up in the middle of the night for no reason.

His decision to pursue a case against the Norwegian state sparked international outrage. Norwegian prisons are notoriously comfortable, and their focus on rehabilitation over punishment is often hailed as a model by which the rest of the world could learn from.

Even Skien, Norway's highest-security prison, where Breivik is being held, isn't so bad. According to a report by Agence France Presse, Breivik's cell has three rooms – "one for living, one for studying, and a third for physical exercise – as well as a television, a computer without internet access and a game console. He is able to prepare his own food and do his own laundry."

Breivik has famously griped about the fact he got stuck with a Playstation 2, rather than a newer Playstation 3, and has also taken issue with other matters, such as the rubber writing utensils that jail officials had provided him with. "If it were theoretically possible to develop rheumatism, I am convinced that this rubber pen would be capable of causing it," Breivik wrote in his complaint against the Norwegian government. "It is a nightmare of an instrument and I am frustrated by its use."

"The fact that I must therefore, envision a future with nothing more than a dysfunctional rubber pen, appears, therefore, as an almost indescribable manifestation of sadism," Breivik added.

During the four-day hearing at Skien, Breivik also complained about the food quality and that he was forced to use plastic utensils for eating.

Petty complaints aside, research has shown that solitary confinement can have a destructive impact on a person's psyche. A Frontline investigation into solitary confinement cited a study by Stuart Grassian, a former faculty member of Harvard Medical School. Grassian concluded that solitary confinement can cause "a specific psychiatric syndrome, characterized by hallucinations; panic attacks ; overt paranoia; diminished impulse control; hypersensitivity to external stimuli; and difficulties with thinking, concentration and memory. Some inmates lose the ability to maintain a state of alertness, while others develop crippling obsessions." Such treatment runs counter to Norway's rehabilitation over punishment philosophy.

Breivik's 21-year sentence – for detonating a car bomb near a government building, killing eight, and then going on a shooting rampage at a left-wing summer camp, killing 69 – can be extended if authorities determine he still poses a threat to society.

Before he detonated the bomb, Breivik emailed to 1,000 people a 1,500-page manifesto, in which he railed about "the Muslim invasion" and multiculturalism, and how his intended massacre of the summer campers was to be a wakeup call.