A ‘Happy’ tribute video brings unhappiness in Iran

Six young Iranians were reportedly arrested Monday and forced to repent on state television for creating a homemade video cover of the Pharrell Williams song “Happy.”

 

The video “Happy We are from Tehran” features three young Iranian men and three young Iranian women without hijabs dancing to “Happy” on the rooftops of Tehran. The video is part of an international trend of “Happy” cover videos. The Iranian video was uploaded to YouTube last month.

One of the video’s stars, identified only as “Neda,” spoke to Iranwire, an independent news service, three weeks ago:

We couldn’t believe that 10,000 people would watch it in just one day. And the number is growing.

According to Agence France-Presse:

‘After a vulgar clip which hurt public chastity was released in cyberspace, police decided to identify those involved in making that clip,’ Tehran police chief Hossein Sajedinia was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency. “Following a series of intelligence and police operations and after coordinating with the judiciary, all the suspects were identified and arrested.”

Iranwire cited an unnamed source who said the group was tricked by the Iranian authorities into being arrested:

“All of the young producers received phone calls informing them that a friend had suffered a car accident and required their help. When they arrived at the address they had been given over the phone, security forces were waiting to arrest them.” Security forces have also allegedly threatened the families of those arrested that if they speak to any media about the detentions, their children will not be released.

Following Monday’s arrest, the group repented on state television. The Huffington Post reported:

Footage from Iranian state TV appears to show seven men and one woman being interrogated about the video, which is shown in the clip with the dancers blurred out. A subtitled edition of the TV clip identified those arrested as “actors,” who claimed that they were tricked into making the “Happy” video for an audition, and were promised that it would not be broadcast.

You can see the video without subtitles here.

According to Iranwire, members of the group will be released Wednesday on $10,000 bail under the condition that they do not speak to the media.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, a message supporting Internet freedom appeared on President Hassan Rouhani’s Twitter account, according to Reuters.

Bloomberg reported:

Officially, Youtube, Facebook and Twitter are banned in Iran, even though top officials, including Rouhani, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are prolific users of social media.

Under Islamic law since the 1979 revolution, Iran has enforced a dress code that demands most women cover themselves from head to toe. Morality police make sure women respect the dress code in public, according to AFP.

The video’s creators spoke about their difficulties in making the clip to Iranwire:

“We were really afraid,” she says. “Whenever somebody looked out of a window or someone passed by, we ducked behind a door to make sure we were not seen.” …

“To conform to the Islamic dress code, we covered our hair with wigs,” she said. They made sure they had appropriate clothing to cover themselves where necessary. But even with all these precautions, they still attracted attention. Neighbors hung out of their windows to see what was going on, but because they did not have a professional camera, it was assumed that “a few silly young people had gathered together to have fun.”

The group said its goal was to show Iran in a different light: “We wanted to tell the world that the Iranian capital is full of lively young people and change the harsh and rough image that the world sees on the news,” Neda said. The arrests and their state television appearances may have done the opposite.

The New York Times also reported on the incident. And even Pharrell weighed in:

Nick Kirkpatrick is a digital photo editor at The Washington Post. Follow him on Instagram or on Twitter.
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