Breivik's acceptance of prison sentence brings relief to Norway

Anders Behring Breivik, who was convicted of twin terror attacks last summer that killed 77 people, announced he would not appeal his sentence of 21 years in prison.

Heiko Junge/NTB Scanpix/Reuters
Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik gestures as he leaves the courtroom after the Oslo Court delivered the verdict of his trial in Oslo, Norway, August 24. Breivik was jailed for a maximum term on Friday when judges declared him sane enough to answer for the murder of 77 people last summer.

Convicted Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik announced he would not appeal today’s guilty verdict for killing 77 people in a combined car bomb attack and shooting rampage last year, putting an end to an emotionally fraught 13 months for survivors and victims' families, and the country as a whole. 

After the seven-hour-plus reading of the historic verdict in Oslo District Court, which sentenced him to 21 years in prison, Breivik said he did not want to "legitimize this court" by either accepting or appealing the verdict. “I want to apologize to all militant nationalists in Norway and Europe,” he added, prompting chuckles in the court.

After being cut short by a visibly irritated Judge Wenche Elizabeth Arntzen, Breivik clarified via consultation with his defense attorney Geir Lippestad that he would not appeal the verdict. Mr. Lippestad later added during a press conference that Breivik had not signaled that he wanted to take the case to a higher court, such as the European Court of Human Rights.

Oslo public prosecutor Svein Holden also announced during a press conference that his office would not appeal the verdict. He said he regarded the basis for the verdict as “thorough” and partly based its decision on a desire to avoid further "burden" for survivors and victims’ families.

The decision by both sides to accept the verdict puts an end to the uncertainty over the fate of Norway’s most notorious criminal, who might have avoided jail time if the court had found him insane. Victims and their families were dreading the possibility of the case being dragged out further through an appeal.

Breivik’s evasion of criminal responsibility was a real possibility after two forensic psychiatric reports came to opposite conclusions. The prosecution sought to have Breivik be found insane because there were doubts over his mental competence, while the defense, at Breivik's insistence, argued that he was sane.

In the end, he was found sane and sentenced to the maximum prison time of 21 years’ preventive detention for terrorist acts because there was a considerable danger of repetition. If he is still deemed a risk after that, his prison time can be extended in five-year intervals indefinitely.  

“Norway will still have a population of different ethnic backgrounds, different cultures, and different religions” when Breivik is finished with his sentence at age 53, said Arne Lyng, one of the two professional judges, reading the court's decision to place him in preventive detention. “He has said he will still continue his battle behind (prison) walls."

Breivik targeted the Labor party with his attacks because he claims the party was “ethnically cleansing indigenous Norwegians” by facilitating mass Muslim immigration into Norway with its immigration policies. He placed a car bomb outside the government complex in Oslo, killing eight, and then drove to the nearby island of Utøya to shoot Labor party youth at their annual summer camp. 

“This is a just sentencing, and the law’s strongest,” says Trond Henry Blattman, leader of the national July 22 Support Group. “It’s very clear that he is a danger to society and there is very little likelihood that he will be let back into society.” 

Judge's critique

Judge Arntzen criticized the first forensic psychiatric report for not taking into account Breivik’s political ideology when it concluded he was paranoid schizophrenic. The psychiatrists cited Breivik’s claims that he wanted to “save us all” from the ensuing civil war that would happen as a result of the Islamic colonization of Europe and bore responsibility of deciding who would live or die in their determination that he was insane.

“The court lacks a broader discussion of Breivik’s statements, especially related to the extreme subculture he belongs to,” said Arntzen. 

“The court noted that the defendant testified that his choice of victims [was] politically motivated and that he cynically and coldly picked his victims,” she added. “The court believes this is not a [physical] impossibility – no matter how reprehensible it may be.” 

Arntzen said it would be wrong to place someone in compulsory psychiatric care if they did not need treatment, and said the court placed little weight on his own preference to be found sane. The court further found he could not claim he was not guilty on the grounds that it was a “pre-emptive attack” to avoid a wider civil war.

Public frustration

The verdict comes as the country is increasingly frustrated with the government's and police’s inability to have protected them against the attacks and respond adequately. Within the last few weeks, the head of the Norwegian national police has resigned and there have been calls for Jens Stoltenberg, Labor prime minister, to accept responsibility for his failure to protect the public and step down. 

The hunt for accountability comes in the wake of the 22 July Commission report, released earlier this month, which found that the attacks could have been prevented and lives saved by a swifter response. Breivik was able to hunt down and kill unarmed teenagers on Utøya for more than an hour until the police arrived, and the government was slow in closing the government complex to vehicle traffic. 

The prime minister is set to appear at a parliamentary session next week to explain his strategy for implementing the changes to the security protocol and penal code, as proposed by the commission. However, his resignation is seen as unlikely, because his center-left government holds a majority of the seats in parliament.

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