Iran's judiciary should drop the case against seven youth for participating in a video showing them dancing and end any further legal proceedings or harassment against them and their families, Human Rights Watch said today. Authorities released six of the seven on bail on May 21, 2014, the day after authorities showed the suspects on television “confessing” and expressing remorse for their roles in the video.
Iranian police arrested the four men and three women several weeks after a video that showed the youths dancing to the popular song “Happy,” sung by Pharrell Williams, went viral on YouTube. The video shows the youth dancing, solo and together, in various public and private locations, apparently in Tehran. The women in the video are not wearing a hejab, a headscarf or shawl used to cover a woman's hair, which is required in public. Public dancing or depictions of such dancing, especially between men and women, is generally forbidden. Authorities are still holding Sassan Soleimani, who is alleged to have directed the YouTube video.
“People who express themselves through music and dance are not committing a crime,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Iran's judiciary should not be pursuing these charges.”
On May 20, a state television program showed six young men and women whose faces had been blurred and identified them as those who had appeared in the YouTube video. During the program the youth said that they did not intend for the video to be publicized and that they had been tricked into taking part in it. A police commander for Greater Tehran, Hossein Sajedinia, said on the television program that authorities identified the six and arrested them within hours after the video was posted, which seemed to contradict reports suggesting that the authorities arrested them weeks after the video was initially uploaded online. He warned Iran's youth against engaging in similar activities and said security forces would similarly deal with others who made such videos.
Two of those in the video who were released on bail are Reyhaneh Taravati and Afshin Sohrabi. The other four have only been identified by their first names (or stage names) as “Neda,” “Bardia,” “Roham,”and “SPDH.”
It is not clear whether the youth have been charged, though their release on bail suggests that authorities are considering prosecution. Iranian authorities have previously relied on various morality and cybercrimes laws to punish those engaged in activities considered immoral or prohibited under Sharia, or Islamic law. Sentences for violating these laws can include fines, imprisonment, and lashings.
The arrests occurred against a backdrop of statements by President Hassan Rouhani urging greater Internet freedom in the country, and apparent disagreements between various branches of government over the extent to which authorities should police and censor the Internet. On May 21, the day authorities released the youths, the administrator of a Twitter account linked to the presidential office retweeted a tweet from June 2013 that read: “Happiness is our people's right. We shouldn't be too harsh on behaviors caused by joy.”
YouTube and Facebook are blocked in Iran, but millions of Iranians access these and other filtered sites using proxy servers and other filter-evading technology.