May 20, 2014—Six young men and women, who were arrested and detained in Tehran for making a video in which they danced to Pharrell Williams’ hit song “Happy,” should be immediately released, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said today.
The youth were paraded on state TV on May 20, 2014, where they were forced to express remorse for their “guilty” act.
“If it is now a criminal act for youth to show their happiness in Iran, then law enforcement, and the hardline centers of power they represent, must really be running scared. This is exactly the kind of moment when Rouhani must take a stand,” said Campaign Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi.
The video, set to the smash 2013 hit, went viral on YouTube, where it was viewed well over a hundred thousand times before being removed. The video is no longer publicly available. A copy of it was posted on YouTube today and can be viewed here.
A Twitter campaign, #freehappyiranians, calling for the release of the youth, was launched on May 20.
It is not clear what charges the youths face; authorities referred to their “criminal act” which included making a video that “hurt the public’s chastity.”
The Greater Tehran Police Commander, Hossein Sajedinia, stated on the televised news program, “They were identified within two hours, and after six hours they were all arrested.” He then issued a warning to any like-minded youth: “See the short time and the speed with which the police acted to discover and identify these individuals. We will definitely identify these people and will deal with them.”
These arrests are indicative of growing struggle in Iran between hardliners, who dominate the judicial and security arms of government, and more moderate forces within society, supported by the Rouhani administration. Social media, and the freedom to use it to communicate and express oneself, is a key arena in which this struggle is being played out. Hardliners are keen to demonstrate their continued strength and ward off any move toward a domestic opening, given Rouhani’s huge electoral win.
“It is outrageous that citizens are subjected to this kind of intimidation and violation of their basic right to freedom of expression. They were breaking no law. It is sheer thuggery,” continued Ghaemi.
The description originally accompanying the video stated: “People of Tehran are happy! Watch and share our happiness! … We wish happiness for all the people around the world…. “Happy” was an excuse to be happy…Hope it brings a smile on your face.” Apparently this is now a subversive message in Iran.
The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), the state-run broadcaster, televised the youths’ “confessions.” IRIB is a central tool of repression in Iran. In concert with Intelligence, Judicial and security officials, IRIB censors content and routinely broadcasts forced confessions and disinformation to conceal human rights violations and defame dissidents. The Campaign will be releasing a report shortly on human rights violations by IRIB.