TEHRAN - The arrest of six Iranian youths for dancing to US singer Pharrell Williams' hit "Happy" in a video that went viral highlights the rift between conservatives and youths fascinated by the West.
Recorded on a smartphone and uploaded multiple times on YouTube, the clip shows three girls dancing and singing along to the song in a room, on rooftops and in secluded alleys with three young men.
For the youths, the homemade video now watched one million times was merely an "excuse to be happy", but for the Iranian authorities it was "vulgar" breach of the Islamic republic's values.
Originally posted online in April, the clip gradually spread online before it led to the arrest of the dancers and their director on Tuesday for having "hurt" the country's strict moral codes, according to Tehran police chief Hossein Sajedinia.
The youths appeared on state television repenting for appearing in the clip, after the girls failed to properly observe hijab, a series of rules that oblige women in Iran to cover their hair and much of their body when outside.
Their arrest sparked international fury and criticism in the media and online, with many Iranians expressing shock and some observers questioning whether it was a "crime to be happy in Iran".
Supporting the young Iranians, Williams himself chimed in and hit out at their treatment, saying on Twitter and Facebook: "It's beyond sad these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness." Reports emerged Wednesday night that the dancers were released on bail, with one of the arrested girls, Tehran-based fashion photographer Reihane Taravati, saying on Instagram: "Hi I'm back."
'Right to happiness'
The arrests came after President Hassan Rouhani - a self-declared moderate who claims to be for more social freedoms - reiterated in a weekend speech his calls for a relaxation of Internet censorship.
Rouhani's statements have irked the conservatives, who have long imposed limitations on the Internet, blocking millions of websites particularly social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, as well as YouTube.
The president appeared to send an apparent message of support to the dancers on Wednesday night, through a Twitter account associated with his office.
"Happiness is our people's right. We shouldn't be too hard on behaviours caused by joy," read a tweet quoting a June 2013 speech by Rouhani, who constitutionally has no power over Iran's judiciary.