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Hardliners vs. 'Happy' Dancers: Iran's Internal Battle Ensnares Pharell Fans

The arrests of six young Iranians for dancing to "Happy" highlights conservative sway in Tehran.
 
 
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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations in New York, September 26, 2013.
Photo Credit: AFP

 
 
 
 

It was a perfect headline for the satirical online news site, ‘The Onion.’

“Young Iranians Arrested for Being Too ‘Happy in Tehran’,” reads a May 20 New York Times blog title, with similar reports produced by news media from all over the world.

But the true story began a month ago when a group of young men and women in Iran produced a homemade music video to the hit song ‘Happy’ by U.S. entertainer Pharrell Williams.

The fan video, featuring three men and three women happily dancing with one another in various Tehran settings, received more than 100,000 hits after being uploaded to YouTube before it was marked private, and the actors and the director arrested May 20.

The women were not wearing mandatory headscarves in the video and the opposite sexes were touching one another in public, all of which are forbidden in the Islamic Republic.

The video has since been reproduced, however, with  one versionreceiving over 300,000 hits and counting since its May 19 posting.

YouTube is illegal in Iran and can only be accessed through private-browsing networks, but some of the fan video did make its way onto Iranian  state news television.

After the six Iranians were arrested, a clip appeared on Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), featuring the participants claiming that they didn’t know the video would be made public, with blurred clips of their video appearing in the background.

A tagline at the end of the video read: “We have made this video as Pharell William’s fans in 8hrs with IPhone 5s. ‘Happy’ was an excuse to be happy. We enjoyed every second of making it. Hope it puts a smile on your face.”

While at least one of the six young Iranians, Reihane Taravati, confirmed her release on  Instagram, with reports surfacing that all except the director have been freed on bail, the event has received worldwide attention.

“It is beyond sad that these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness,” said Pharrell Williams in comments posted to his popular social media accounts yesterday.

CNN’s famous anchor Christiane Amanpour has since applauded the Iranians’ release, but had earlier tweeted an observation about the dynamics of the event.

“Tragic. Ordinary Iranians doing nothing wrong caught in a fight between hard-liners and moderates,” she said.

“If it was not for the international outcry at how ridiculous these arrests were, these youth probably would have faced the fate of other people who have been arrested for no justifiable reason and spent months or even years in prison,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights In Iran (ICHRI).

Ghaemi told IPS that he worries the director of the video will be used as a scapegoat after the other participants were pressured into putting the blame on him in their “forced confession” and could face serious jail time.

“This is a critical time for [Iranian President Hassan Rouhani] to act on the promises he made to the people who voted for him,” he said.

While no member of the Rouhani government has directly commented on the issue, Rouhani’s semi-official English Twitter account raised a few eyebrows by quoting a statement by the president from June 2013 today.

Ghaemi, an internationally recognised expert on Iranian rights issues, told IPS Rouhani hasn’t focused on remedying Iran’s heavily securitised domestic environment since his June 2013 election, despite campaigning with that promise.

 
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