What do you do if you are a cheerful 25-year-old college student in Iran tired of your country and its people being portrayed in the world as angry, provocative and depressed?
Answer: You make a video of your friends being happy, singing and dancing in the streets of Tehran to Pharrell Williams’ smash hit song “Happy.”
“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,” read the message posted below the video on Youtube.
It appears that happiness is now a crime in Tehran.
Security forces tracked down and arrested all seven of the men and women who appeared in the video. They paraded them on state television like criminals on Tuesday night, lined up against the wall with their backs to the camera, their heads tilted down and their hands behind them.
A reporter from state television shoved a camera in their faces as each one expressed their remorse. They confessed that someone had tricked them into appearing in the video by promising them international fame.
By Wednesday night, Iran released the young men and women, who had appeared in the video, but kept the director in detention, according to the Facebook page created in support of the ”happy’ group. Reihane Taravati, one of the detained women, updated her Instagram account with a photo of herself and thanked all their supporters.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani tweeted, “#Happiness is our people’s right. We shouldn’t be too hard on behaviors caused by joy.”
Tehran’s police chief, Hossein Sajadinia, boasted on television on Tuesday that the group was identified within two hours and arrested within six. He then made a point that their speedy arrest should be a lesson to others.
“My warning to these people is that we will definitely identify them and punish them,” said Mr. Sajadinia on television.
The video, posted last month, went viral. The beautiful men and women in hip outfits of tight skinny jeans and colorful tops beamed from the screen with big smiles. The women wore red lipstick and ditched the veil, showing off long dark locks.
It attracted over 100,000 viewers in just a few weeks and was shared on social media and hailed as yet another sign that the Islamic Republic’s regime was deeply out of sync with its youth population.
At least two other similar parodies followed. One showed people dancing in the middle of a traffic jam at night to “Happy’’ and another took a camera around town asking random people, like shopkeepers and passersby, to lip-sync to the words and display their best dance moves.
The seven young people arrested in the original video are all college students studying medicine, engineering, literature and art, according to an interview with them prior to their arrest on the website Iranwire.
“We wanted to do something to show the world that Iranian youth also experience moments of happiness despite all the hardship we face,” said one of the people in the video in an interview with Iranwire.
They were arrested when the police called each one of them individually and falsely claimed one of their close friends had a car accident and asked them to come to the police station, according to family members who talked to Iranwire.
Family members have also been threatened against speaking to the media and told their children will be dismissed from the university and kept in detention longer, reported Iranwire.
The arrest of the ‘happy’ group has prompted widespread outrage worldwide. A Facebook page and Twitter handle #freehappyiranians was instantly created.
Pharrell Williams reacted with this tweet: “It’s beyond sad that these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness.”
Human rights groups have also condemned their arrest. “They were breaking no law, it is sheer thuggery,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the director of the NY-based Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has advocated for more social freedom and specifically for easing the restrictions on Internet and social networks saying this was the way of the future and battling it would prove futile.
“Cyberspace should be seen as opportunity: facilitating two-way communication, increasing efficiency & creating jobs,” tweeted Mr. Rouhani on May 17.
For now at least, President Rouhani doesn’t appear to hold sway with the hardliners who control security and intelligence.
“The Iranian people cannot be forced to live in a world where enrichment is a right, but happiness is not,” said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, an advocacy group based in Washington, in a twitter message.
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(via WSJ Blogs)