Breivik verdict met with mixed reactions

28/08/2012

Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik was taken to a prison outside Oslo on Friday, after judges ruled that he was sane and gave him a 21-year jail term.

By Svetla Dimitrova for Southeast European Times in Sofia -- 28/08/12

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Anders Behring Breivik arrives at the Oslo courthouse on Friday (August 24th). [Reuters]

A maximum prison sentence for Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik, who urged "indigenous Europeans" to rise up against the continent's "Islamification," was welcomed by many people in the Nordic country, including by relatives and friends of some of the 77 persons he killed 13 months earlier.

"Now we won't hear about him for quite a while; now we can have peace and quiet," Per Balch Soerensen, father of one of the victims, told The Associated Press. "He doesn't mean anything to me. He is just air."

Soerensen's daughter was among 69 people, most of them teenagers, who were fatally shot by Breivik on July 22nd 2011 while a political youth camp on the fjord island of Utoeya. Prior to the shooting spree, the far-right extremist, dressed in a fake police uniform, detonated a powerful bomb in Oslo's government quarter, which left eight people dead and more than 200 injured.

Breivik will spend 21 years in prison, the maximum allowed by Norwegian law.

The massacres were the worst act of violence in Norway since World War II and the worst in Europe since the bombing incident at the Bologna railway station in Italy in 1980, when 85 people were killed and hundreds of others were wounded.

Breivik, 33, spent years meticulously planning the attacks. Shortly before them, he published his ideological manifesto on the Internet, condemning supporters of multiculturalism.

He admitted to the killings, but showed no remorse for them. He also claimed that he was a member of a non-existent organisation allegedly called "Knights Templar."

Two teams of psychiatrists evaluated Breivik; one found him psychotic, while the other concluded that he was in his right mind and was guilty of terrorism and premeditated murder.

After a 10-week trial and two months of deliberations, a five-member panel of judges accepted the second group's view and announced its verdict on Friday (August 24th).

Breivik was suffering from "narcissistic personality characteristics" but not psychosis, Judge Wenche Elizabeth Arntzen said, handing him the maximum possible sentence of 21 years of "preventive detention," a special term for criminals considered dangerous to society. Under Norwegian law, that sentence can be extended as many times as needed if the authorities view him as still posing a threat to society.

Breivik, who would have been sent to a mental hospital had the court declared him insane, smiled when the verdict was delivered.

"If he is deemed not to be dangerous any more after 21 years, then he should be released," the New York Times quoted Bjorn Magnus Ihler, a survivor of the Utoeya shootings, as saying. "That's how it should work. That’s staying true to our principles, and the best evidence that he hasn't changed our society."

But many people in the Balkans perceived Breivik's verdict as too lenient, particularly as his confinement will be in a three-cell suite that includes a bedroom, a room with exercise equipment and a third with a desk and a computer. He will not have Internet access.

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"True, he was given the maximum sentence, indeed. But, the killing of 77 people requires capital punishment," Sofia-based lawyer Alexander Hamunov told SETimes. According to him, "the Norwegian parliament should have, perhaps, made the needed legislative changes, so that Breivik could be given the death sentence."

Zaharina Savova, a Sofia-based clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, said that one of the reasons for the diversity in the Norwegians' and the Bulgarians' reaction to the news is the different level of development of social thinking in the two countries.

"People in Norway know that the maximum sentence is 21 years and they are content that the court has done its job, giving [Breivik] that maximum sentence, rather than acquitting him, or declaring him insane," she told SETimes.

"Here, we have had numerous murders, but few have been solved, few trials have led to convictions, or to a verdict perceived by the society as just. Also, there are differences in the area of national psychology" between the two countries, Savova added. "There is a lot of violence in this part of Europe, and violence always sparks violence in response."

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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