Iranian Youths Arrested for Dancing to Pharrell's 'Happy'

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It looks like dancing or being happy in Iran can get you in trouble.

Earlier this week, six young Iranians were arrested for dancing to Pharrell Williams' song "Happy" and posting it on YouTube (video below). Part of their punishment was to go on state television to apologize and repent in another viral video with no music and dancing.

Iranian authorities are pushing back on a global phenomenon. Homemade videos set to the song "Happy" have been recorded in more than 140 countries.

"It's beyond sad these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness," Pharrell Williams tweeted in response to the arrest of the Iranians.

Joining The Takeaway to explain these charges and what the mood is like in Iran is Golnaz Esfandiari, an Iran correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. She is also an editor of the Persian Letters blog.

"They were trying to have fun, and they said, those who produced the video, that they were trying to give another picture of Iran—that Iran wasn't such a horrible place to live in," says Esfandiari. "They were arrested, though there were some reports today that some of them were released on bail."

Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi is reportedly behind the tough reaction to this and is taking a hardline, saying that "Islam is against laughing loudly for no reason."

"I'm not surprised that Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi said that—I remember the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was quoted as saying, 'There's no jokes in Islam. There's no humor in Islam. There's no fun in Islam,'" says Esfandiari. "I think this has been one of the principles of the Islamic Republic, that people are not supposed to have fun. The reason that has been cited in the past 35 years or more is often religion."

In addition to religion, Esfandiari says that "fun" goes against the authoritarian nature of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

"They want people to have discipline, and laughing and having fun goes against that," she adds.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has not weighed in on the issue directly, but he has recently been trying to paint a new picture of Iran—something a perceived ban on fun or dancing might complicate.

"President Rouhani has not expressed himself (on this issue), he's outside of Iran currently—he's traveling in China," she says. "But there was a tweet from his Twitter account saying that it is people's right to be happy, and that we shouldn't be too hard on behaviors caused by joy...But let's not forget that President Rouhani is part of this system for the past 35 years, so he probably agrees with some of these things that have been happening."

Esfandiari grew up in Iran and says she was "warned by the moral police" a number of times for laughing too hard in public.

"I spent one night in jail because I was arrested with my friends at a party," she says. "It's very normal and it happens all the time."

Nowadays, according to Esfandiari, Iranians can pay officials instead of going to jail. During the early days of the Iranian revolution, however, things were different.

"They would raid parties, arrest people, put them in jail," she says. "One of my friends was lashed 25 times just because he was at this party with me." 

Check out the video that got the six young Iranians arrested below.