"Thanks for thinking about us," said Neda, one of the six Iranians arrested for posting a music video for Pharrell Williams’s “Happy” on YouTube. "We're finally released after three days in prison," she wrote on Instagram. "We're waiting for the court date. Thanks a lot for caring about us."
“My sister and her friends wanted to show the world that we still have moments of happiness, even though we face so many problems in Iran,” said Siavash Taravati, whose sister Reihaneh was one of those arrested. “They were only showing their happiness and were arrested for that,” he said.
Shortly after the six were released, 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 Reihaneh Taravati on Sunday, May 18th. The officers covered the peephole of the door so that their faces would be obscured, and Taravati opened the door. Armed officers streamed inside, bashing and damaging everything in sight, videotaping the whole time. Taravati's paintings and photographs were destroyed.
They took the group to the Vozara police station, where they were not permitted to use toilet facilities. The group were transferred to solitary confinement on the second day. Police interrogated them extensively about the video 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 film, which was uploaded to YouTube last month, shows the six young people– all reported to be 25 or younger– 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, where he also posted a photograph of the six Iranians. News of the arrest was widely covered in national media, including the BBC, The Guardian, and Figaro.
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 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 uploaded their versions of the video online since.
On Tuesday, May 20th, the six prisoners appeared on state television’s evening news broadcast, grouped together in a row in front of Tehran Chief of Police Hossein Sajedinia, and confessed to being deceived 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, Siavash Taravati said it was clear how frightened the group were during the television interview.
On May 21st, hours before the six youth 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 behaviors caused by joy." Though this cannot be seen in any way 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). Sources close to the group say the video's director remains in detention.
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 their release, security forces allegedly threatened the families of those arrested that if they spoke to any media about the detentions, their children would not be released.
Three days after the clip went live on YouTube in, one of the six involved 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 is conceived], 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.”