CBS News – Police in Iran have arrested six young people and shown them on state television for posting a video online of them dancing to Pharrell Williams’ hit song “Happy.”
The song has sparked similar videos all over the world. But in Iran, some see the trend as promoting the spread of Western culture. And women are banned from dancing in public or appearing outside without the hijab in the Islamic Republic.
Tehran police chief Hossein Sajedinia confirmed on state television late Tuesday that the three men and three women were detained over the video. State television also aired blurred pictures of the video and then showed the six with their backs turned to camera.
On Twitter, Williams said: “It’s beyond sad these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness.”
Ironically — at least to a casual outside observer — the arrests were announced just days after President Hassan Rouhani gave a speech urging the country’s ruling Islamic regime to grant Iranians greater online freedom.
“We ought to see (the Internet) as an opportunity. We must recognize our citizens’ right to connect to the World Wide Web,” Rouhani said in a Saturday speech, according to state-run news agency IRNA.
“Why are we so shaky? Why have we cowered in a corner, grabbing onto a shield and a wooden sword, lest we take a bullet in this culture war?” the leader, viewed as a moderate in the Islamic Republic, asked rhetorically in his speech. He referred to the government’s censorship as “cowardly.”
But as CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer explains, everything that happens in Iran now happens in the arena of political infighting between the nation’s hardliners and moderates.
Rouhani’s speech at an internet festival inside Iran was recorded, and was meant to be played out on Iranian state media for the nation to see, but state broadcaster IRIB decided against that — censoring the nation’s elected leader.
According to The Telegraph, aides from Rouhani’s office blame the head of IRIB, Ezzatollah Zargham, for yanking the speech from the airwaves. Zargham is a former commander in Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard, a unit of the nation’s military which falls outside the usual chain of command, answering directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The day he made his speech, Rouhani jabbed at the more conservative members of Iran’s Islamic cleric-led regime on his official English language Twitter account.
He said his government was “unhappy” with the “current situation” in the country, and was “working to increase internet speed for users at home,” and on mobile devices.
But in Iran, all final decisions are made by the Supreme Leader, or at least with his blessing.
The decision to parade the six young people arrested for the “Happy” video on television — making a clear public example of them — while blocking the president’s own appeal for greater freedom from reaching the airwaves, made it clear Rouhani has his work cut out for him.