STOCKHOLM -- The convicted Norway mass killer has applied for admission to the University of Oslo, testing the limits of Norway's commitment to rehabilitate criminals rather than punish them.
Anders Behring Breivik, the right-wing extremist, who killed 77 people in bomb and gun attacks two years ago, wants to study political science, and prison and university officials say he could do his studies in his cell if accepted by the school.
"In Norway, and I'm proud of this, we have a system where inmates, in general, can apply to study at universities, most of them from their own cell, so it will be distance learning," said Ole Petter Ottersen, the rector of the University of Oslo. "This is a principle that is put in place to help the inmate get back to society."
Ottersen said he couldn't comment on prospective students but added it was "publicly known" that Breivik had applied to the university.
Others, including Education Minister Kristin Halvorsen, have said Breivik is a special case and shouldn't enjoy the same rights as other prisoners.
The self-styled anti-Muslim militant surrendered to police on July 22, 2011, after setting off a bomb outside the government headquarters in Oslo and opening fire at a summer camp for young Labor Party activists on Utoya island. Eight people died in the bombing and 69, mostly teenagers, were killed on the island. Breivik showed no remorse for his actions, calling his victims traitors for supporting a multicultural society.
"This is a special situation because we are facing a mass murderer who will never again be released into Norwegian society," Halvorsen told broadcaster TV2 this week. "So many of the arguments we have for encouraging inmates in Norwegian prisons to get an education don't apply to the same degree."
Breivik's defense lawyers were startled by her comments, saying there is no legal basis to deny him the education rights that other inmates enjoy.
They also criticized her assumption that Breivik, 34, will never be released from prison.
"That is not up to politicians to decide," said Tord Jordet, who is part of Breivik's legal defense team.
Breivik was sentenced to the maximum term of 21 years. After that a court can extend his sentence if it considers him a danger to society.
He is being kept away from other inmates at Ila Prison for security reasons, and has access to newspapers, TV and radio but no Internet connection.
His university application is expected to be processed this month.
Ottersen, the university rector, said prison authorities decide how an inmate should conduct his or her studies. "The role of the university is to provide the learning material and to evaluate the exams," he said.
Per Anders Langeroed, an Oslo city councilman who survived the Utoya massacre by swimming from the island, said it's worth discussing whether helping Breivik get an education was "resources well spent."
Still, Langeroed found "no reason to deny him the right to read some books and take some exams," providing that teachers and other students wouldn't have to interact with him.
"Because what we experienced when we faced terror was that when everything around you fell and you were afraid of everything, the comforting thing was to hold on to some basic principles," Langeroed said.