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'Happy' video dancers, but not director, freed in Iran, group says

By Saad Abedine and Holly Yan, CNN
updated 7:06 PM EDT, Wed May 21, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: All six dancers were freed; the director was not, a human rights group says
  • Iranians are accused of making an "obscene" video that "offended the public morals"
  • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tweets: "#Happiness is our people's right"
  • The hashtag #FreeHappyIranians has gone viral on Twitter

(CNN) -- Six people who were arrested in Iran for dancing in a YouTube video to Pharrell Williams' song "Happy" have been freed, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said Wednesday, citing a source close to the families.

The director of the video was not released, the group said.

One of the six announced that she was freed. "Hi I'm back," Reihane Taravati wrote on her Instagram account, thanking Williams and "everyone who cared about us."

The fan video is one of many to the hit song that has sold millions of downloads worldwide.

Tehran Police Chief Hossein Sajedinia ordered the arrests of the three men and three women for helping make an "obscene video clip that offended the public morals and was released in cyberspace," the Iranian Students' News Agency reported Wednesday. Authorities forced the young people to repent on state TV.

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani seemed to think differently. "#Happiness is our people's right. We shouldn't be too hard on behaviors caused by joy," a tweet on his account said. It seemed to be quoting one of his comments from June 2013.

Pharrell Williams denounced the arrests.

"It is beyond sad that these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness," the Grammy Award winner said on his Facebook page.

Just like in the singer's original video, the Iranian fan version features a montage of men and women dancing to the song in a variety of settings.

Taravati gushed over the reaction to the video in the days before the Tuesday arrests.

"178K VIEWS thank you," she wrote on her Facebook page last week. She also posted a picture of people featured in the video on Instagram.

"People of Tehran are happy! Watch and Share Our Happiness!," Taravati wrote. "Let the world hear us! we are happy and we deserve to be!"

Arrests come amid support for photo project

The arrests come amid growing support on Facebook for an unrelated project featuring photographs submitted by women who appear without Iran's legally required head scarves.

The page, created May 3, has more than 300,000 likes.

"This is the voice of Iranian women who have been censored all their lives in Iran," London-based journalist Masih Alinejad, who created the page, told HLN, CNN's sister network. "And now social media is giving them the opportunity to speak out, to be themselves."

Conversely, Iranian officials and some journalists denounced an Iranian actress who extended her hand in greeting to a film festival executive and received a kiss on the cheek from him, according to media reports.

The BBC reported that a conservative journalism organization run by Iran's state broadcaster said actress Leila Hatami engaged in "unconventional and improper" behavior by extending her hand to Cannes Film Festival president Gilles Jacob.

For his part, Jacob dismissed the controversy over kissing Hatami on the cheek.

He said on Twitter that she represented "all Iranian cinema" and called the uproar over the kiss needless controversy "over a usual custom in the West."

'Happy' makes Pharrell cry

International backlash

Pharrell's not the only one unhappy about the arrests. The Twitter hashtag #FreeHappyIranians went viral.

"Is happiness a crime? @Pharrell #freehappyiranians," @MaedehHP tweeted.

Others poked fun at the fan video's message.

"They deserve it for lying:) How can any body be #happy in #Tehran or #Iran for that matter," @Alothman123 wrote.

The National Iranian American Council condemned Iranian authorities.

"There are forces within Iran's government who want to keep the Iranian people isolated from the world," the council said in a statement.

"The irony that the Iranian youth were arrested for dancing to a song called 'Happy' seems to be lost on the Iranian authorities."

Incidentally, the arrests came just days after Rouhani said citizens should take advantage of the Internet to communicate.

"#Cyberspace should be seen as opportunity: facilitating two-way communication, increasing efficiency & creating jobs," the President tweeted Saturday. "Govt unhappy w/ current situation; working to increase internet speed for users at home, in offices& on mobiles."

Rouhani said every Iranian citizen has a right to connect to the Internet, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.

Some on social media made a point to separate the Iranian government from everyday Iranians.

"In a country which Religion and politics are not separated anything could become a crime even happiness," Hamoun Dowlatshah posted on Pharrell's Facebook page. "I love you Iran but i hate your government more than anything else."

Read: Iranian woman awaits execution as global outcry for mercy grows

Read: Iranian hostage crisis figure seeks U.N. credentials

Read: American detained over parody video speaks out

CNN's Azadeh Ansari contributed to this report.

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