Six young Iranians who were arrested for posting a YouTube video of themselves dancing on Tehran rooftops to “Happy,” the globally infectious pop song, were released on bail Wednesday, as new details emerged of their possible mistreatment while incarcerated amid an outpouring of sympathy – including a subtly supportive Twitter post from Iran’s president.
The arrests of the six, who were all younger than 25 and included women not wearing their mandatory headscarves, were carried out over the weekend. They were taken into custody just as the president, Hassan Rouhani, was giving a speech arguing that Iranians should embrace the Internet instead of viewing it as an insidious Western threat to Islamic morals.
The six were shown on state television on Tuesday, backs to the camera, apologizing for having made the video, which was uploaded on YouTube in April and received more than 165,000 hits. The television broadcast also included an admonition from Tehran’s police chief, Hossein Sajedi, who told all young Iranians never to make such videos.
The episode appeared to reflect a broader clash between Iran’s religious conservatives and the faction represented by Rouhani, a relatively moderate cleric who was elected nearly a year ago partly on pledges to ease some of the political and social restraints in Iran, including censorship of the Internet.
The “Happy” video was made as part of a highly successful international campaign by its original creator, Pharrell Williams, an American singer-songwriter, who called upon people to replicate it and post their videos online.
News that the six Iranians had been arrested incited an indignant reaction by rights groups such as Amnesty International and by Iranian-Americans.
Williams also reacted, posting on his Facebook page: “It is beyond sad that these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness.”
Rouhani, who has his own Twitter account, commented on the arrests for the first time Wednesday by retweeting a post he had first made after he was elected: “Happiness is our people’s right. We shouldn’t be too hard on behaviors caused by joy.”