Tensions rose high today in the Anders Behring Breivik terror trial, with a violent outburst in the Oslo courtroom and a political storm over a rushed new mental health care amendment that was formally proposed today.
A young Kurdish man, reportedly the brother of one of the 18-year-old victims, threw his shoe at Breivik, the man charged with killing 77 in last summer’s twin terror attack, and yelled in English: “You killed my brother. Go to hell.”
The shoe struck Vibeke Hein Bæra, Breivik’s defense attorney, who was sitting beside Breivik. The thrower was quickly escorted away by police and medical personnel via ambulance. Breivik responded to the incident by commenting, “If someone wants to throw something, you can throw it at me.”
The dramatic event marks the first such emotional outburst in this case, which has proceeded calmly and civilly until now, with only silent sobbing from victims’ families. It happened on the last day of presenting autopsy reports from the victims of Breivik's shooting spree on Utøya, where Breivik killed 69 people attending the Labor Party youth’s summer camp. Several of the victims were born to foreign parents.
The unexpected incident caused many in court, mostly victims’ relatives, to clap as the man was led out of court crying, says Anders Gjaever, a Norwegian media commentator who was in court today. He told VG TV it was a “relief” for him and probably also to Norwegians, who are not used to expressing their emotions so openly.
“He probably did what most [victims’ families] wanted to do,” says Mr. Gjaever.
The incident occurred shortly before Norway’s health ministry was to present a controversial amendment to the country's mental health care law, which has been criticized by politicians and the legal and psychological community for being drafted in haste in order to become law before Breivik’s sentencing.
The government proposed a number of extended powers to strengthen security measures related to a small group of mental health patients considered dangerous. One of the proposed powers would give mental health professionals the right to search patients, another would put a limit on patients’ communication with the outside world.
The proposal also introduces a legal basis for establishing a unit with a particularly high level of security. This could be within the walls of a prison, but a decision had not been whether and where such a unit may be located, the ministry said.
“The current act implies too great a risk for escape, hostage taking and severe violence against patients and staff in the health institutions where particular dangerous patients stay,” said Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen, Norwegian Minister of Health and Care Services, in a statement.
“The proposal applies only to the level of security,” she added. “It does not change the law in terms of whether or how long a convicted person should undergo compulsory mental health care.”
'more like a prison'
Critics complain that the law, which was scripted shortly after the July 22 attack, has been rushed through as a solution tailored for one person, with just a three-week hearing period. The Norwegian Bar Association says that “judicial rights have been pushed aside.”
“The proposal will reduce the rights to those that are sent to compulsory mental health care substantially,” says Kristian Andenæs, a professor of criminology and sociology at the University of Oslo. “It's obvious that the proposal will make the mental health system more like a prison.” In its comments sent to the health ministry on March 12, the Norwegian Bar Association said, “The proposed law comes across as little thought through. Relationship to human rights has been little addressed.”
The Norwegian Psychologists’ Association separately expressed concern in its hearing comments, submitted in March, that the rights to psychological help could be pushed aside if someone is considered more dangerous. The proposed amendment has also sparked reaction among some opposition party politicians, including the Liberal and Conservative parties.
The health ministry's Ms. Strøm-Erichsen said she recognized the disadvantages of a short consultation period, but that “the security concerns and the population's need of feeling safe must take priority.”
The proposed amendments to the mental health care law mark the first major legal change since the country suffered its worst peacetime atrocity. On July 22, Breivik placed a car bomb outside Oslo government buildings, killing eight, before going on the shooting spree on Utøya.
It also comes during a week of heightened confrontation in court.
On May 9, Breivik started commenting directly to Utøya victims, who began testimony this week. He asked to directly address Tonje Brenna, Labor Party youth secretary general, after she accused him of yelling “woo hoo” while shooting his victims. Yesterday was marked by an unexpected police escort for Muhammed Abdulrahman Muhammed, one of the witnesses from the Utøya attack, who reportedly received a specific threat against him via Norwegian newspaper VG.
The terror trial will continue next week with more testimony from Utøya victims. The case is focused on determining Breivik’s sanity, which will determine whether he receives a prison sentence of a maximum of 21 years or is sent to a mental health asylum. One forensic psychiatric report has deemed him paranoid schizophrenic and hence not punishable, while a second found no signs of psychosis. The judges are scheduled to rule on his sanity shortly after the trial ends on June 22.