Six Iranians who were seen in a video online lip-synching and dancing to American singer Pharrell’s pop hit “Happy” are facing suspended sentences of six months in prison and 91 lashes for “obscene behavior.”
One of the female dancers reported that their sentences were suspended, but could be carried out at any time if the six defendants commit any further “acts of vulgarity” in the next three years, which is a common form of criminal deterrence in Iran, according to The New York Times.
The video, titled “Happy in Tehran,” showed a group of young Iranian men and women dancing on a rooftop to the hit song. It quickly became a global internet sensation, generating a hefty sum of views on YouTube. Part of what made it notable was that it portrayed Iranian citizens in a light rarely seen by the Western civilizations; they mirror the happiness and fun-loving attitude of any typical American college student.
One of the dancers, who also faces a punishment of 91 lashes, received an extended 12-month prison sentence for uploading the video to the internet.
Outcries against the punishments handed down to the dancers have swept Twitter, including “Happy” singer Pharrell himself.
Each dancer was charged with vulgarity and illicit relations because the video shows the female dancers illegally baring their heads and dancing publicly with the men, both of which are strictly outlawed in Iran. One of the dancers said the prosecutors and judge presiding over the case described the video as “pornography.” An official announcement of the punishments could come as early as Saturday.
The Islamic authorities in Iran are wary of American influences on their youth population, and the harshness of the punishments has been viewed by Iranian president Hassan Rouhani as a wake-up call, even taking to Twitter to denounce the treatment of his own citizens. Rouhani had promised to loosen some of the political and cultural strictures in the country after his election last year.
News of these sentences comes as President Rouhani is preparing to visit the United Nations General Assembly next week. The timing of the news is seen by some to be a tactic by a few of Rouhani’s conservative opponents aimed at embarrassing the president.
Hadi Ghaemi, the Executive Director for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, is unsure whether the punishments were politically motivated or just coincidental.
“It’s hard to say if it’s a coincidence or not. Our position is that they never should have been punished.”