Thousands of Iranian mourners made their way to the hometown of Mahsa Amini early on Wednesday to mark 40 days of mourning since her death in police custody, defying a heavy crackdown in response to the protests that have since embroiled the country, according to local media, videos on social media and rights groups.
The mourners streamed into Ms. Amini’s hometown, Saghez, in northwestern Iran, arriving in cars, on motorbikes or by foot, despite a heavy security presence in the city and threats of imprisonment and death from the authorities. By the afternoon, the demonstrations had spread around the country, drawing tens of thousands, and several videos showed security forces opening fire on protesters in Saghez and the capital Tehran. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
“We shall avenge Mahsa. We shall topple the dictator,” some protesters in Saghez shouted, according to videos posted on social media.
Wednesday marks the 40th day of the mourning period observed under Islamic tradition for Ms. Amini. She died in Tehran on Sept. 16 after she was arrested by the morality police on grounds she was not properly observing the hijab law, which mandates a head covering for women. Her family has said she was in perfect health and died from an injury to her head sustained while in custody. The government claimed she died of a heart attack.
Outrage over her death set off more than a month of intensive protests across Iran, many of them led by women and youth and calling for an end to the system of authoritarian clerical rule. The protests do not have a centralized leadership and are largely organic, but before Wednesday’s day of mourning, several activists groups — women, university students and youth — issued statements calling for the public to come out into the streets.
More on the Protests in Iran
Rights groups say that at least 216 people have been killed since the protest began, including 32 children, and thousands have been injured and arrested. The internet has been severely disrupted in Iran since the protests began, and the government has blocked popular applications such as WhatsApp and Instagram, making it difficult for Iranians to communicate with the outside world.
Ms. Amini’s brother, Ashkan Amini, who was with her when she was arrested, visited the cemetery in Saghez on Tuesday with family and posted a video of her grave covered in red rose petals.
“Sleep my dear, may I bear all your pain,” he wrote under the post. The family visited the grave site again on Wednesday.
Ms. Amini was a member of Iran’s Kurdish minority and across the heavily Kurdish region that encompasses her hometown, protesters joined in the day of mourning, shouting “Death to the Dictator.” Many storefronts were shuttered in cities nationwide as business owners stayed home to commemorate the day, according to rights groups.
Anticipating of a fresh wave of unrest on Wednesday, the government deployed anti-riot forces and police officers in plain clothes on the streets of Saghez the night before, according to images and videos posted on Telegram by Hengaw, the Norway-based Kurdish rights group.
The security forces, who had reportedly warned Ms. Amini’s family to cancel plans for a gathering at the grave site on Wednesday in Saghez, closed the access roads to the city the night before to prevent mourners from entering, according to rights groups and videos posted on social media.
Clashes erupted on Tuesday between protesters and security forces, who had gathered in the city’s main Mother Square, near the Kurd Hotel, where several high-profile soccer stars were staying to attend the ceremony, according to videos posted by Hengaw.
Still that violence did not deter thousands of mourners, many of them clad in black, who arrived in Saghez on Wednesday. Videos showed streams of people flocking on foot to the grave site, which is about two miles from downtown Saghez.
“Regime forces have blocked the main roads leading to the Aichi Cemetery,” the rights group Hengaw said in a post of a video that showed streams of people in dark clothing crossing a hilly field. “People are taking alternative ways to go to the ceremony.”
The renowned Iranian Kurdish filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi said in a message posted on Instagram on the eve of Wednesday’s day of mourning: “Don’t be silent. Tomorrow everyone must come out.” Mr. Ghobadi, using Ms. Amini’s Kurdish name Jina, said she represented Iranian people striving for freedom against autocratic rulers.
Some Iranians stayed away from jobs on Wednesday and some parents kept children at home in a sign of collective mourning for Ms. Amini, according to residents of Tehran and social media posts and videos.