Six Iranian twentysomethings were arrested for dancing to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” this week. Specifically, they were arrested after a video of the scandalous act was posted to YouTube. According to social media, the dancers have since been released, though the video’s director remains behind bars. The dancers have also since said they didn’t know the video would be posted to the Internet, saying they were invited to make the video “to practice acting” and as “an excuse to be happy.” Pharrell Williams has been campaigning for the detainees on Twitter, saying they should “be allowed to express themselves at least with happiness” and that “social media is best used to expand us all.”
A number of Westerners are currently using the video as an example to call out Iran for going too far in its effort to halt Western behavior,—something that should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the struggles between hard-line Islamists and those trying to bring a sense of moderation to the country. Last year, now-President Hassan Rouhani succeeded Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in part because of his belief in greater cultural and social freedoms for Iran. He’s also said he’s for a loosening of restrictions on Iran’s Internet, where sites like YouTube and Facebook are blocked (though young people often use proxy servers to access them anyway). A tweet posted by either Rouhani or his staff earlier this week—reading “#Happiness is our people’s right. We shouldn’t be too hard on behaviors caused by joy”—seemed to suggest he believed authorities had gone too far.