'With these sentences, the absurd meets the unjust' - Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui
The Iranian authorities’ sentencing of seven people for making a video of the Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy” has again revealed the authorities’ contempt for freedom of expression, said Amnesty International.
Six of those who appear in the video have been sentenced to six months’ imprisonment each and a seventh person to one year, one of their lawyers said in a media interview. All seven have also been sentenced to 91 lashes. The sentences - which are not yet thought to have been communicated in writing to the lawyers - are suspended for three years.
The seven Iranians - four men and three women¸ named as Sassan Soleimani, Reyhaneh Taravati, Neda Motameni, Afshin Sohrabi, Bardia Moradi, Roham Shamekhi and 'Sepideh' - were convicted of “participating in the production of a vulgar video clip” and of “illicit relations between group members” following their trial on 9 September. Soleimani was additionally convicted of directing the video, while Taravati was also convicted of possessing alcohol in her home, and of uploading and distributing the video clip on YouTube.
Their lawyer has stated that he does not know whether they will appeal the verdict.
The seven were arrested in May after appearing in the video dancing and miming to “Happy”, an upbeat anthem that has inspired hundreds of similar video tributes worldwide. The video is filmed on the streets and rooftops of Tehran.
Veiling has been compulsory in Iran since 1981 and in the video the women appear unveiled. Police said the “vulgar” video offended “public chastity” and shortly after the arrests, Iran’s state-run TV featured apparent “confessions” from the defendants in which they claimed to have been tricked into making the video, believing it was for an audition.
The arrests prompted a Twitter campaign for the release of the seven with the hashtag #freehappyiranians. On 21 May the semi-official Twitter account of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani quoted a 2013 statement by him that “#Happiness is our people's right. We shouldn't be too hard on behaviours caused by joy”. The Tweet was interpreted by many to have been a reference to the Pharrell Williams video arrests.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:
“With these sentences, the absurd meets the unjust.
“If confirmed, it would be a ludicrous outcome. These individuals will have been convicted and branded criminals purely for making a music video celebrating happiness. The youths should never have been paraded before state TV to ‘confess’ nor brought to trial.
“These convictions, flagrantly flout Iran’s obligation to respect the right to freedom of expression. If the sentences are ultimately carried out, these individuals will be prisoners of conscience.”
Suspended sentences in Iran
Suspended sentences are generally not carried out in Iran unless the individual is convicted of certain crimes, such as qesas (retribution in kind) or hodoud (fixed offences and punishments in Islamic law), during the period of time specified by the court - in this case three years. However, individuals still remain under the threat of imprisonment.