Six Iranians in their early 20s have been arrested for recording a video of themselves performing Pharrell Williams's hit song “Happy”.
Iran’s state-run television broadcast a clip of the young Iranians confessing on camera and apologising for their video. Under Iranian law, it is illegal for a woman to appear in public without wearing the hijab.
The video was originally uploaded to YouTube last month and received over 150,000 hits before authorities demanded its removal and launched a criminal investigation into the video. Tehran police chief Hossein Sajedinia confirmed that six people had been detained in connection with the "vulgar" clip.
“After a vulgar clip which hurt public chastity was released in cyberspace, police decided to identify those involved in making that clip,” Sajedinia announced yesterday, according to ABC News.
You can watch the original video below:
Tehran police has yet to free those arrested. Iranian users on Twitter are tweeting #freehappyiranians to campaign for their release, while Pharrell Williams has described it as “beyond sad” that these Tehran fans were arrested for “trying to spread happiness”.
Masih Alinejad, an exiled Iranian journalist now based in London, believes that this latest development in online censorship is definite cause for concern.
"They've arrested six kids for singing and dancing,” she told Dazed. “It's awful, they're just young people who aren't involved in politics.”
Alinejad is no stranger to controversy in her native country. She's received death threats for setting up My Stealthy Freedom, a Facebook page which invites Iranian women to post photographs of themselves unveiling in public.
For Alinejad, the arrest of the six young Iranians highlights the lack of a liberal voice in the country. “Every time (the government) needs (young people), you call them to come and vote for you. But when they need you, you will not listen,” she said. “Just hear the voices, hear the message of these people.”
Watch their forced confession on state television below:
Earlier this morning, Alinejad posted an interview on Soundcloud she conducted with Reyhaneh Taravati's brother, Slavash. Reyhaneh was among the six Iranians arrested for participating in the video. Slavash claims that Iranian authorities entered their family home, attacked his sister and then confiscated her belongings, including her computer and phone.
You can read a translated excerpt of the interview below.
Masih Alinejad: How do you feel about the video they aired where your sister and her friends apologised and said they made a mistake?
Siavash: It was a very ugly act, and unfortunately something now ordinary on Iranian radio and TV. In order to try people and give them a chance to defend themselves they put them in front of the camera. Unfortunately it seems they arrest them, scare them, then get a forced confession. One of the girls in the video is visibly shaking because they’ve scared her. It’s a very ugly act that breaks international law.
Masih Alinejad: The group say they made the video to show there is cheer in Iran. Why do you think they made it?
Siavash: It was to show cheer and also to compete with other countries who are making their own 'Happy' videos. It was to show happiness. There wasn’t even an intention to forget about our problems, just show that there are moments in life where you can appreciate the positives.
Mashi Alinejad: Do you have any requests of the government who are hearing you now?
Siavash: We want them to be freed and returned to their families, Pharrell Williams himself shared news of their arrest on his facebook page, and said it was regretful to see a group of young people imprisoned for trying to show happiness. They did it to show people Iranians can be happy too.
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