Pharrell Williams’s infectious hit “Happy” has become a global viral phenomenon, so much so that Oprah Winfrey recently made the singer cry by showing him videos of “Happy” dances from around the world.
In a country where dancing in mixed company and, for women, appearing without a veil is illegal, that has stark consequences—as it did for six young Iranians, who were arrested and interrogated on state TV after their homemade “Happy” video racked up more than 165,000 views on YouTube. Posted last month, the video shows the six participants dancing on rooftops and bedrooms in Tehran:
According to a report by the Iranian Students' News Agency, the arrest was set in motion by Tehran Police Chief Hossein Sajedinia, who called the video “an obscene video clip that offended the public morals and was released in cyberspace.” He also claimed that the clip “hurt public chastity.”
In the state TV footage, the dancers said they were “tricked” and only meant the video to be viewed privately instead of attracting police attention.
Ironically, President Hassan Rouhani has recently argued that Iran should embrace the Internet, saying the country should compete “via modern means, not passive and cowardly methods”:
As The New York Times notes, international outrage at the arrests only bolsters Rouhani’s belief that shunning the Internet has done Iran no favors in the culture wars.
Outside of Iran’s borders, the hashtag #FreeHappyIranians has gone viral and Williams himself expressed his sadness at the news on Twitter:
It's beyond sad these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness http://t.co/XV1VAAJeYI— Pharrell Williams (@Pharrell) May 21, 2014
Update: As of early Wednesday afternoon, one of the six dancers, Reihane Taravati, announced on Instagram that she had been released. “Hi I'm back thank you @pharrell and everyone who cared about us love you all so much and missed you so much,” she wrote. According to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, the three men and three women in the video have all been released, though the director reportedly remains behind bars.