Mahsa Amini, 22, died on September 16, three days after falling into a coma following her arrest

Paris (AFP) - Thousands of Iranian mourners gathered Wednesday at the grave of Mahsa Amini to mark 40 days since her death, defying heightened security measures as part of a bloody crackdown on women-led protests.

“Death to the dictator”, men and women chanted at the Aichi cemetery in Saqez, Amini’s home town in the western province of Kurdistan, in videos shared online.

Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, died on September 16, three days after her arrest by the notorious morality police for allegedly breaching the Islamic dress code for women while visiting Tehran with her younger brother.

Anger flared at her funeral last month and quickly sparked the biggest wave of protests to rock the Islamic republic in almost three years. Young women and schoolgirls have led the charge, burning their hijab headscarves and confronting security forces.

Overnight, the authorities stepped up security measures in Saqez, deploying personnel in a central square as well as reportedly shutting off entrances to the city.

Motorists block a street in Tehran during the Amini protests

Despite that, mourners headed to her graveside to mark 40 days since her death – the end of the traditional mourning period in Iran.

Iran’s Fars news agency said around two thousand people gathered in Saqez and chanted “Woman, life, freedom”.

But thousands more were seen making their way in cars, on motorbikes, and on foot along a highway, through fields and even across a river, in videos widely shared online by activists and human rights groups.

Noisily clapping, shouting and honking horns, mourners packed the highway linking Saqez to the cemetery located eight kilometres (five miles) away, in images that the Hengaw rights group told AFP it had verified.

- ‘Year of blood’ -

“This year is the year of blood, Seyed Ali will be toppled,” a group of them chanted in a video verified by AFP, referring to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“Kurdistan, Kurdistan, the graveyard of fascists,” others were heard singing in another video shared by activists on Twitter. AFP was unable to immediately verify the footage.

Hengaw, which monitors rights violations in Kurdistan, said strikes were underway in Saqez, Divandarreh, Marivan, Kamyaran and Sanandaj, as well as Javanrud and Ravansar in the western province of Kermanshah.

Women around the world have cut their hair in solidarity with the protesters

The Norway-based rights group said Iranian football stars Ali Daei and Hamed Lak had travelled to Saqez “to take part in the 40th day funeral”.

They had been staying at the Kurd Hotel but were “taken to the government guesthouse… under guard by the security forces”, it said.

Daei has previously run into trouble with authorities over his online support for the Amini protests.

Kurdistan governor Esmail Zarei-Kousha said the situation in Saqez was calm and dismissed as “completely false” reports that roads into the city had been shut.

“The enemy and its media… are trying to use the 40 day anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death as a pretext to cause new tensions, but fortunately, the situation in the province is completely stable,” he said, quoted by state news agency IRNA.

- Fresh student rallies -

Hengaw said most of Saqez was “empty” as so many people had left the city to join the ceremony to commemorate Amini.

Pro-government protesters hold Iran's national flag during a rally in Tehran

The 1500tasvir social media channel, which chronicles rights violations by Iran’s security forces, said fresh protests were being held elsewhere, including at universities in Tehran, Mashhad in Iran’s northeast and Ahvaz, in the southwest.

Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights said the security forces’ crackdown on the Amini protests has cost the lives of at least 141 demonstrators, up from 122 previously, in an updated death toll Tuesday.

Amnesty International says the “unrelenting brutal crackdown” has killed at least 23 children, while IHR said at least 29 children have been slain.

More than five weeks after Amini’s death, the demonstrations show no signs of ending. They have been fuelled by public outrage over the crackdown that has claimed the lives of other young women and girls.

Iran’s Forensic Organisation said in a report published this month that Amini’s death “was not caused by blows to the head and vital organs and limbs of the body”.

But lawyers acting for her family have rejected the findings and called for a re-examination of her death by another commission.

Iran announced sanctions Wednesday targeting individuals and media outlets in the European Union, in retaliation for the bloc’s punitive measures imposed last week on the morality police and other officials over the crackdown.