HomeMiddle EastWorld Briefing: Director of ‘Happy in Tehran’ Video Freed on Bail in Iran

World Briefing: Director of ‘Happy in Tehran’ Video Freed on Bail in Iran

Sassan Soleimani, the director of “Happy in Tehran,” a viral YouTube tribute to Pharrell Williams that offended Iran’s conservative judiciary, was released on bail Thursday, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, a New York-based advocacy group.

Evidence of the director’s freedom, after nine days in custody, came in the form of a self-portrait he sent to Kambiz Hosseini, a popular expatriate satirist whose Jon Stewart-like riffs on current events reach Iranians via the Internet or on satellite channels financed by the United States government.

Sassan Soleimani, the director of one version of the ”Happy in Tehran”released on bail. #FreeHappyIranians pic.twitter.com/EcXjn6jTYS

Earlier on Thursday, one of the dancers who appeared in the popular video, a fashion photographer named Reihane Taravati, reported on Instagram that Mr. Soleimani’s release was imminent. “Can’t wait to see his face,” she wrote on the social network. “Fingers crossed till that moment.”

Last week, Ms. Taravati and other participants in the video posted self-portraits to signal that they too had been released on bail after being detained and forced to repent on state television for dancing in the video.

Despite recent threats to crack down on the service, Instagram remains freely available to users inside Iran, unlike Facebook, which is blocked and is accessible only by employing technical means to evade the state’s Internet censorship. Hooman Majd, an Iranian-American author who described life in Tehran in his memoir “The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay,” said in an interview that “Instagram has not tended to be used politically in Iran — if it ever is, it will be blocked. Iran is most worried about mobile access to social media.”

After her release, Ms. Taravati warned friends that she had lost control of her Facebook page, but was still able to communicate through Instagram.

Earlier this week, Mr. Hosseini, the satirist, shared an undated photograph with his 800,000 Facebook and Twitter followers showing Mr. Soleimani, the video director, posing with President Hassan Rouhani.

Sasan Soleimani who directed Iranian version of Happy video – second from left- still in jail.#freehappyiranians pic.twitter.com/2lemrpwDdr

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported on Wednesday that Mr. Soleimani said in an interview last year that he had worked as a photographer and consultant for the president’s 2013 election campaign.

While Mr. Rouhani spoke recently about the need for Iran to embrace greater Internet freedom, analysts say that it is politically easier for the new president’s administration to resist the filtering of newly prominent services like Instagram and WhatsApp than it would be to remove the already existing prohibitions on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

#Cyberspace should be seen as opportunity: facilitating two-way communication, increasing efficiency & creating jobs. pic.twitter.com/iYkzgHpXkQ

Although the “Happy in Tehran” participants could still face charges from the religious conservatives in control of the country’s judiciary, an Iranian prosecutor rejected as false recent reports that the Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, had been summoned to appear in court there over complaints about Instagram and WhatsApp, which are both owned by his company.

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(via NY Times)

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