TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Police in Iran have arrested six young people for posting a video online of them dancing to Pharrell Williams’ hit song “Happy,” showing them on state television as a public warning to youth in the Islamic Republic.
The song has sparked similar videos all over the world, with people dancing down streets and smiling in choreographed crowds. But in Iran, some see the trend as promoting the spread of Western culture, as laws in the Islamic Republic ban women from dancing in public or appearing outside without the hijab. The government also bans some Internet websites.
In the Tehran video, three young men and three young women dance on a secluded rooftop, a stairwell, a walled-off driveway and a chic apartment, wearing sunglasses and silly clothes while laughing and smiling. The women wear no hijabs.
Tehran police chief Hossein Sajedinia confirmed on state television late Tuesday that the six people were detained over the video. State television also aired blurred pictures of the video and then showed the six with their backs turned toward the camera.
Sajedinia said the video clip “hurt public chastity” and prompted police to launch a swift investigation.
“They were identified and arrested within six hours,” Sajedinia said. The online video includes the participants’ first names in a credit roll with outtakes.
Those arrested said on the TV broadcast that they were deceived and that the video was not meant to be posted online.
“They had told us that this video won’t be released anywhere and that it was for our own joy,” one of the women said. Another detainee said: “They invited us to appear on the video to practice acting.”
It wasn’t immediately clear if the six arrested faced criminal or civil charges or had lawyers.
Sajedinia warned Iranian young people on the broadcast that police will confront those who challenge Islamic and social norms.
“The youth should try not to be deceived by these people under pretexts such as acting or singing,” he said.
On Twitter, Williams posted a link to a story about the arrests and wrote late Tuesday: “It’s beyond sad these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness.”
The arrest of the six young people come as hard-liners increasingly challenge moderate President Hassan Rouhani as the country negotiates a nuclear deal with world powers. Rouhani campaigned for greater cultural and social freedoms during the presidential election last year and spoke Saturday about the Internet as well.
“We should see the cyberworld as an opportunity,” said Rouhani, according to the official IRNA news agency. “Why are we so shaky? Why don’t we trust our youth? ”
Hard-liners accuse Rouhani of failing to take the necessary actions to stop the spread of the “decadent” Western culture in Iran. Last week, hard-liners marched over women not wearing hijabs and dressing provocatively.