On Monday, the day the trial started, Norwegian prosecutors and even lawyers representing the families of his 77 victims shook Breivik’s hand as proceedings began.
On Tuesday, the 33-year-old far-right militant was allowed to give an hour-long address to the court, reading from a statement that summarized the 1,500-page anti-Islamic manifesto that he posted online before his bomb-and-shooting rampage nine months ago.
“The attacks on July 22 were a preventive strike. I acted in self-defense on behalf of my people, my city, my country,” Breivik declared, demanding to be found innocent of terror and murder charges.
He set off a bomb outside the government headquarters in Oslo, killing eight, then drove to Utoya island outside the capital and massacred 69 people in a shooting spree at the governing Labor Party’s youth summer camp on Utoya island. It was the most “spectacular” attack by a nationalist militant since World War II, he boasted.
The court’s main judge interrupted Breivik several times Tuesday, asking him to get to the point, but let him continue after he threatened that he would either finish his speech or not speak at all.
“It is critically important that I can explain the reason and the motive” for the massacre, said Breivik.
Breivik, who has admitted the attacks, said it doesn’t matter if he’s sent to prison, because living in a country ruled by “multiculturalists” was a prison in itself. The main point of his defense is to avoid an insanity ruling, which would deflate his political arguments.
Mette Yvonne Larsen, a lawyer representing victim’s families, also interrupted Breivik, saying she was getting email and text message complaints from victims who felt the defendant was turning the trial into a platform to profess his extremist views. But even she showed some sympathy for Breivik’s right to explain his actions.
“We understand that the court allows it, but we felt it was our duty as lawyers for the bereaved to intervene,” Larsen told reporters.
Norwegian legal experts said it’s important that the country’s legal traditions apply to everyone, even Breivik, whose massacre shocked the wealthy, peaceful nation. The justice system here isn’t about “revenge, but sober, dignified treatment” for everyone accused of a crime, said Thomas Mathiesen, a professor of sociology of law at the University of Oslo.
“It is deeply ingrained in Norwegian tradition and fundamental values. If it lasts all the way through the 10 weeks of this trial, and I think it will, we have an important message to the world,” he said.
But even in Norway, dignity has its limits. Five judges are hearing the case — three of them citizen judges, ordinary people who serve four-year terms. One of the citizen judges was removed Tuesday after media reports said he had posted comments in an online forum saying that Breivik deserved the death penalty, which doesn’t exist in Norway. He was replaced by another citizen judge.