Self-confessed mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik is unlikely to be sent to jail after psychiatrists declared him to have been insane and suffering from paranoid schizophrenia when he killed 77 people in Norway this summer.
Prosecutors said Breivik, a self-declared anti-immigration militant, believed he had staged what he called “the executions” out of his love for his people. “The conclusion … is that he is insane,” prosecutor Svein Holden told a news conference on Breivik’s psychiatric evaluation. “He lives in his own delusional universe and his thoughts and acts are governed by this universe.”
If the court accepts the psychiatrists’ conclusions, Breivik would be held in a psychiatric institution rather than in a prison. Norwegian courts can challenge psychiatric evaluations or order new tests but rarely reject them. Breivik could be held as long as he poses a threat to society, but may be released if found to be healthy.
It is a controversial prospect in a country still struggling to come to terms with the events of July 22, when Breivik killed 77 people by bombing central Oslo and then gunning down dozens of people, mostly teenagers, at a summer camp of the ruling Labour party’s youth wing. “The most important thing for me is not to punish Breivik,” 20-year-old Bjørn Ihler, a survivor of the shootings on Utøya island, told Reuters. “What matters to me is that he no longer poses a threat to society.”
Others were less understanding. “I’m so angry I could weep,” wrote one woman on the Facebook site of daily newspaper Aftenposten. “A man who can plan his misdeed in such detail and carry it out in cold blood is answerable for what he has done. If this is allowed to stand it will disgrace the name of Norwegian justice and be an insult to the names of his victims.”
Breivik had developed paranoid schizophrenia and was psychotic at the time of the attacks, Holden said, adding that his condition was persisting. In their report the psychiatrists described many different forms of “bizarre delusions”.
“They especially describe what they call Breivik’s delusions where he sees himself as chosen to decide who shall live and who shall die, and that he is chosen to save what he calls his people,” said Holden.
“Breivik has stated that he committed the murders, or executions as he calls them, because of his love for his people.”
In a manifesto posted on the internet shortly before his killing spree, Breivik declared he wanted to protect Norway from what he said was the threat of Muslim immigration.
Breivik could legally be freed if declared healthy. “If he is not psychotic and does not pose a danger to society, then his sentence cannot be upheld,” prosecutor Inga Bejer Engh told the news conference.
If the court accepts the psychiatric evaluation, Breivik would still be put on trial but could not be jailed. He could face court hearings every three years to determine if he needs to remain committed to a psychiatric institution, and could be held for life if he remained a threat.
The ‘most perfect knight’
Norway’s penal system is based, perhaps more than in other countries, on the principal of rehabilitation rather than punishment. It does not have the death penalty and the maximum criminal sentence is 21 years.
During his 13 conversations with two mental health experts, which lasted about 36 hours, Breivik called himself the “most perfect knight” to live after the Second World War.
Breivik also claimed that his organisation, which he calls the Knights Templar after the medieval religious order, will take over power in Europe and put himself forward as the future regent of Norway and the continent. “The experts also describe Breivik’s intentions to conduct breeding projects with Norwegians and organise them in reserves,” said Holden.
Breivik, who is currently being held in isolation in prison, was not aware of the conclusion of his psychiatric evaluation, prosecutors said.
Already the evaluation is being questioned in some quarters. Quoted on Norwegian state broadcaster NRK, Erling Johannes Husabo, a professor in criminal law, said the evaluation was highly unusual. “Their conclusion that he is insane is commonly reserved for persons with a more disturbed grasp of reality resulting in, for example, hallucinations,” he said. “It must be a very peculiar type of psychosis he is suffering from, when he can execute his plans so diligently.” —