Tehran Diary

‘Happy’ Dancers Arrested, Abused in Iran

Six young Iranians made a YouTube video in Tehran dancing to Pharrell Williams’s hit. For that crime they were jailed, humiliated on national TV, and the women strip-searched.


“Thanks for thinking about us,” says an Instagram message from Neda, one of six Iranians arrested for posting a music video dancing to Pharrell Williams’s “Happy” on YouTube. “We’re finally released after three days in prison. We’re waiting for the court date. Thanks a lot for caring about us.”

Shortly after the six were freed, they spoke of their appalling treatment while in prison.

According to a source close to the group, police raided the home of artist and photographer Rayhaneh Taravati on Sunday, May 18. The officers covered the peephole so that their faces would be obscured, and Taravati opened the door. Armed police streamed inside, bashing and damaging everything in sight, videotaping all the while. Taravati’s paintings and photographs were destroyed.

They took Rayhaneh and her friends to the Vozara police station, where they were not permitted to use toilet facilities, and were transferred to solitary confinement on the second day. Police interrogated the group extensively about their video clip and comments to foreign media, including this publication. During their detention the young women were forced to strip naked and perform squats in front of female police officers.

The video, directed and filmed by Rayhaneh’s brother, Siavash Taravati, was uploaded to YouTube last month. It shows the six dancing on rooftops in Tehran. The women are not wearing hejab, Iran’s compulsory Islamic dress.

“It is beyond sad that these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness,” said Pharrell Williams on his Facebook page. He also posted a photograph of the group on the site.

The video was part of a global campaign initiated by Pharrell Williams earlier this year, when he called for people around the world to upload photos and videos of themselves having fun. The Iranian “Happy” film was viewed by over 100,000 people.

Tehran was easily recognizable because the distinctive air conditioners found on so many buildings in Iran were clearly visible in several scenes. Although this was the first “Happy” video submitted to YouTube from Iran, other Iranians have since uploaded their versions online.

The group appeared on state television’s evening news broadcast on Tuesday, May 20, lined up in front of Tehran Chief of Police Hossein Sajedinia. They “confessed” they were tricked into appearing in the clip by an unnamed man and woman. Sajedinia advised the young people during the broadcast not to be deceived into appearing in corrupt film productions, and with a smile complimented the swift reaction of his security forces. “These [agents] were able to identify [these young people] within two hours, and within six hours had arrested them all,” he said.

Speaking about the broadcast, filmmaker Siavash Taravati said it was clear how frightened the members of the group were during the television interview.

On Wednesday, May 21, hours before the six Tehrani youths were released, President Hassan Rouhani commented on the incident on Twitter, posting : “#Happiness is our people’s right. We shouldn’t be too hard on behavior caused by joy.” Although this cannot be seen as an official government statement, many will no doubt be aware of the apparent disconnect between those who ordered the arrests and the presidential administration.

Siavash Taravati told IranWire that his sister was released after her family paid a bail of 40 million toman. Others in the video settled bail amounts of 30 million toman ($10,000) .

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Taravati also said that police authorities confiscated a number of items during the raid that led to the arrests, including mobile phones, computers and cameras.

Prior to the release of the “Happy” dancers, security forces allegedly threatened the families of those arrested, telling them that if they spoke to any media about the detentions, their children would not be freed.

Three days after the clip went live on YouTube, one of the producers spoke to IranWire. He said, “We want to keep on working inside Iran. Anyone can be creative and work outside Iran, but our aim is to convey the voice of Iranian young people to the world. We just want a chance to raise our voice, and say that Iran is a better place [than some people think], that despite all of the pressures they face, Iranian young people are happy and are striving to improve their lot in the world, with the highest of spirits. They know how to be happy, just like everyone else in the world.”

This article is adapted from posts on IranWire.com.