Iran freedom of expression hits hard edge as 'Happiness' video goes viral

WNN Breaking Commentary

Happiness video from Tehran screenshot
A screenshot from the video “Happy We Are From Tehran,” which shows a parody of songwriter, singer and musician Pharrell Williams acclaimed video “Happy” has brought the wrong kind of attention from the Iranian government as it became viral across the world. Image: Sol Productions

(WNN) Tehran, IRAN, SOUTHERN ASIA: As the director of the now viral video called “Happy We Are From Tehran,” remains under arrest following the arrest and release of 13 of those who starred in, or are connected to the production of, the wonderfully fun and silly-smile producing dance video.

Underneath the fun though is the issue of freedom of expression in Iran. This remains an important issue that won’t go away anytime soon for poets, artists, writers, bloggers and musicians in the country who can face real and pressing legal repercussions in Iran if they are seen as going against the wishes of the government.

But with this it seems that the system in Iran is also starting slowly tiny step by step to ‘wake up’ to a tide of global modernization that is now hitting youth in every country worldwide.

Creative expression is something that has been on the top of the  list of restricted activities in Iran for decades since the 1979 revolution brought increased conservative interpretations of Islamic law to the root of Iranian society.

“Many authoritarian governments impose strict political restrictions on artists. But the Islamic republic’s censorship code is unusually strict because it includes social restrictions as well. The social restrictions particularly limit how relationships between men and women — one of the most fundamental subjects of the arts — can be depicted,” said journalist and reporter Charles Recknagel in a February 2014 story for Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.

Reaching to date over half a million (670 thousand plus) views, the dance video created by director Sassan Soleimani caused a recognizable stir at some of the highest levels in the Iranian government. But the power in the transparent showcasing of the video throughout social media worldwide has revealed an innocuous ‘no-harm-meant’ message by its producers to just feel free to laugh, enjoy life and ‘just be happy’.

As fans of MTV music celebrity, singer and song writer Pharrell Williams, the Tehran based group of students, many who are photographers, writers and filmmakers themselves, worked together for eight hours to make their own version of Williams music video sensation “Happy” back in March 2014. But it wasn’t until the student’s own video version of “Happy” began to hit outside the veil of Iran’s regional youth culture and into the international reach of viral-dom on Youtube that Iranian police authorities moved in to make their arrests.

It was a “vulgar clip” that “hurt public chastity,” outlined Tehran Police Chief Hossein Sajedinia to ISNA news agency as he shared the policy in Iran that forbids women from doing anything in public without their hijab (headscarf) and also especially prohibits men and women from dancing together in public.

According to Iran authorities, everyone connected to the film, except video director Soleimani, have been released on bail. Each of them will be facing formal sentencing in court later, outlined the ICHRI – International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran on Wednesday.

Facing the prospect of going into court doesn’t seem to be stopping Ms. Reyhaneh Taravati though, who is one of the three dancing women featured in the video.


“Hi I’m back. thank you @pharrell and everyone who cared about us love you all so much and missed you so much,” she said on Instagram following her release from jail.

Before the students were released “they were then paraded on state television, where they were forced to issue statements of remorse and contrition,” added  the ICHRI.

“It’s beyond sad these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness” said musician Pharrall Williams on his Twitter sharing a statement he made to The New York Times following the student arrests.

On Wednesday as the news media world talked about the Happiness video, almost 100 hard-liner fundamentalist Islamic women, most wearing full-length black chadors, demonstrated on the streets of Tehran against what they consider to be a ‘terrible rise in religious error under modernization’, as they demanded that Iran’s government policy not bend to the wishes of their youth, or the West.

But Iran President Rouhani does not completely agree.

“We should see the cyberworld as an opportunity…Why are we so shaky? Why don’t we trust our youth?” said Rouhani to the IRNA news agency.

The use of social media as a tool to cut through the lack of transparency has fueled the youth around the world, especially in those in Iran who continue to hope for a better more understanding and humane system.

“A New Revolution: youth are using Social Media to fundamentally challenge the traditional power structure. KUDOS,” outlined one supportive Twitter activist from Iran who posted their tweet on Twitter on May 21.

“#Happiness is our people’s right. We shouldn’t be too hard on behaviors caused by joy,” tweeted President Rouhani on Twitter just before the “Happy We Are From Tehran,” video release on Youtube caused the dancing students to be arrested by Iran’s police security.


Reaching viral outreach on Youtube this second reposting of the video “Happy We are from Tehran,” following the deletion of the first video during the arrest of those involved in the production of the Happiness video, is again reaching high levels at 688,970 views. As a light-hearted fun parody of Pharrell Williams “Happy” video these students in Tehran, Iran faced arrest and now possible sentencing since they were released on bail. The director of the video Sassan Soleimani of Sol Production is still currently under arrest for creating something police authorities say “is vulgar.” But the youth of Iran, and the world, know better.


©2014 WNN – Women News Network
No part of the text in this article release may be used or reproduced in any form without prior permissions from WNN. All other media is copyright of the owners and may not be used or reproduced without permissions.