[JURIST] A Malaysian court charged 29 protesters on Monday for their alleged involvement in weekend rallies against the country's Internal Security Act (ISA) [text, PDF; AI backgrounder]. The law, which allows indefinite detainment without trial, was protested by an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 people in Kuala Lumpur, resulting in 589 arrests [AFP report] and the use of tear gas and water cannons by police. The protesters were charged with aiding an illegal organization or participating in an illegal rally since a police permit was not obtained. The demonstration was allegedly started by the Abolish ISA Movement [advocacy blog], a group which a defense lawyer maintained is not an illegal organization since it is composed of registered NGOs and political parties. The Malaysian Bar Council [professional website] opposed the arrests [press release] and the use of force, saying that it was an "over-zealous and abusive show of power in [the government's] apparent determination to crush the people’s exercise of its right to the twin freedoms of assembly and expression." Prime Minister Najib Razak [official website; BBC profile] dismissed the protest as being unnecessary since he previously pledged to review the controversial law. Those charged face up to two years in prison.
After taking office in April, Najib called for the release [JURIST report] of 13 people who were detained under the ISA, including two ethnic Indian leaders. In November, Malaysian High Court Justice Syed Ahmad Helmy Syed Ahmad ordered the release [JURIST report] of blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin, finding insufficient grounds for his arrest under the ISA. In January 2008, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) [advocacy website, in French] called for the country to abolish the ISA [JURIST report], claiming that the law was being used to stifle peaceful dissent.