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Young Iranians Arrested for Being Too ‘Happy in Tehran’

A copy of the video “Happy in Tehran,” originally posted on YouTube in April.

Last Updated, 11:00 p.m. | Just days after Iran’s president denounced Internet censorship as “cowardly,” six young Iranians were arrested and forced to repent on state television Tuesday for the grievous offense of proclaiming themselves to be “Happy in Tehran,” in a homemade music video they posted on YouTube last month.

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An image of the “Happy in Tehran” dancers posted on Instagram.Credit

By uploading their video, recorded on an iPhone and promoted on Facebook and Instagram, the group was taking part in a global online phenomenon, which has resulted, so far, in hundreds of cover versions of the Pharrell Williams song “Happy” recorded in more than 140 countries.

“Happy in Tehran” was viewed more than 165,000 times on YouTube before it attracted the attention of the police and was made private.

In a speech over the weekend, President Hassan Rouhani argued that Iran should embrace the Internet rather than view it as a threat, Reuters reported. His remarks were also summarized on a Twitter account updated by his aides.

“We must recognize our citizens’ right to connect to the World Wide Web,” the president said, according the official IRNA news agency. “Why are we so shaky? Why have we cowered in a corner, grabbing onto a shield and a wooden sword, lest we take a bullet in this culture war?” he asked.

“Even if there is an onslaught, which there is,” he added, “the way to face it is via modern means, not passive and cowardly methods.”

The arrest of the young dancers, and their televised public humiliation, angered Iranians at home and abroad, and seemed to support President Rouhani’s case that such crackdowns served only to make the Islamic Republic of Iran look weak in the culture war being waged online.

During their appearance on state television, the six said that they had no idea the footage would be broadcast. The report also included a warning from Tehran’s police chief to the youth of Iran not to be seduced by the filmmakers behind viral videos. The officer, who referred to the…

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