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Iran hands down suspended prison terms and 91 lashes for Pharrell 'Happy' dancers

The seven film-makers were sentenced to prison terms between six months and one year on top of 91 lashes suspended for three years
The video has been watched more than one million times on YouTube since May (YouTube screen grab)

Seven young Iranians featured dancing to Pharrell Williams' hit "Happy" in a video that went viral on the Internet have been given suspended jail and lashes sentences, a lawyer said Friday.

Recorded on a smartphone and uploaded multiple times on YouTube, the clip shows three unveiled girls dancing and singing to the song in a room, on rooftops and in secluded alleys with three young men.

For the youths, the home-made video now watched more than a million times was an "excuse to be happy", but for authorities it was a "vulgar" breach of the country's values.

The seven were arrested in May and released on bail after appearing on state television and expressing remorse for appearing in the clip.

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".

During their trial, they were found guilty of "the illegal distribution of a film" and "illicit relations", lawyer Farshid Rofougaran told AFP.

One female defendant was sentenced to a year in prison and 91 lashes for posting the footage online, while the five defendants and the clip's director were sentenced to six-month terms and 91 lashes.

All of the sentences handed down to the seven were suspended for three years.

“When it’s a suspended sentence, the verdict is not carried out, but if during this period a similar offence is committed, then the accused is subject to legal punishment and the suspended sentence will then be carried out as well,” Rofougaran said.

He said he did not know whether his clients wished to appeal the sentence, which was notified to him orally by a Tehran court.

Human rights groups denounced the ruling.

"With these sentences, the absurd meets the unjust," Amnesty International said in a statement.

It said that if confirmed, the sentences "would be a ludicrous outcome; these individuals will have been convicted and branded criminals purely for making a music video celebrating happiness".

The arrest of the seven had been denounced on Internet social networks, access to which the authorities in Iran try to block. 

But President Hassan Rouhani himself, in a statement on a Twitter account associated with his office in May, said: "Happiness is our people's right. We shouldn't be too hard on behaviours caused by joy."

The song’s creator Pharrell Williams protested the arrests in a Facebook post at the time.

“It is beyond sad that these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness,” he wrote