ABOVE: Watch six Iranians dancing to Pharrell Williams’ hit “Happy.”
TORONTO — Six Iranians were arrested for appearing in a video dancing to the Pharrell Williams hit “Happy.”
In the video, three men and three women are seen dancing to the song on streets and rooftops in Tehran.
The original video, which has been removed from YouTube, was accompanied by the description: “People of Tehran are happy! Watch and share our happiness! … We wish happiness for all the people around the world.”
Authorities described the video as “vulgar” and damaging to “public chastity.”
“Following a series of intelligence and police operations and after coordinating with the judiciary, all the suspects were identified and arrested,” Tehran’s police chief Hossein Sajedinia told the Iranian Student News Agency.
The six “Happy” dancers appeared on state television Tuesday, with their backs to the camera, and expressed remorse. They claimed they were tricked into appearing in the video and said it was posted online by mistake.
The arrests were denounced around the world.
On his Facebook page, Williams said “it is beyond sad that these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness.”
Hadi Ghaemi of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran urged Iranian president Hassan Rouhani to take a stand.
“It is outrageous that citizens are subjected to this kind of intimidation and violation of their basic right to freedom of expression,” said Ghaemi. “They were breaking no law. It is sheer thuggery.”
Last weekend Rouhani said: “We must recognize our citizens’ right to connect to the World Wide Web.”
On his Twitter page Wednesday, Rouhani said: “‘#Happiness is our people’s right. We shouldn’t be too hard on behaviors caused by joy.’ 29/6/2013”
Various social media reports claimed the six participants have been released. A social media campaign, #freehappyiranians, continued to trend worldwide.
BELOW: Watch Global National’s Mike Drolet report on the ‘Happy’ tribute video that landed six young Iranians in trouble with the law
Old guard vs. new guard in Iran
The case was another reminder of the tensions that exist at the highest levels of Iranian power, with hard-liners determined to maintain the status quo while moderates try to push through change — be it improved relations with the West or a loosening of morality clampdowns at home.
Hard-liners accuse Rouhani of failing to stop the spread of what they deem “decadent” Western culture in Iran. Last week, hard-liners marched over women not wearing hijabs and dressing provocatively.
While Rouhani pursues a policy of social and cultural openness, hard-liners say the government should be tough to those who challenge interpretations of Islamic norms. They accuse Rouhani of showing leniency and too much tolerance toward those who question Islamic sanctities or women who are not sufficiently veiled.
The dancing Iranians would seem right at home in the West — or indeed in the music video that accompanies Williams’ song. Fans have posted similar videos from around the world, showing people dancing down streets and smiling in choreographed crowds.
But in Iran, some see the trend as promoting the spread of Western culture, as laws in the Islamic Republic ban women from dancing in public or appearing outside without covering her hair with the hijab. The government also bans some websites.
None of the three women in the video wears a hijab.
The last time there was a crackdown on music was on Dec. 2, 2013, when Iran’s Morality Police temporarily arrested popular rapper Amir Tataloo, whose songs authorities deem inappropriate. He was released two days later.
– with files from The Associated Press