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It's been 40 days since Mahsa Amini died in police custody in Iran

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

It has been 40 days since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in police custody in Iran after being detained for not wearing her hijab appropriately, according to police. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports thousands of mourners and protesters filled the streets of Amini's hometown in northwest Iran, and police were there to suppress the demonstration.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: It's a tradition in Shiite Islam to mark the so-called Arba'een 40 days after someone's death, usually with a show of grief. Thousands of people, mourners and protesters, took to the streets in Saqez.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CLAPPING)

KENYON: Cries of, death to the dictator, rang out and chants of, Kurdistan, Kurdistan, the graveyard of fascists - as videos posted online showed angry mourners gathering at the cemetery in Saqez where Amini is buried. As has happened with increasing frequency over the past month, women pulled off their hijabs, waving them in the air in defiance of strict, conservative Islamic customs for women's dress. The semiofficial ISNA news agency reported Iranian security forces fired pellets at the demonstrators and pushed back against one crowd that tried to attack the governor's office. State-linked media reported some 10,000 people tried to reach Amini's gravesite. Cries of, Azadi - Farsi for freedom - rang out repeatedly.

Riot police fired at both protesters and journalists trying to cover the event, witnesses said. Schools and universities in northwestern Iran were closed. State media said that was an effort to curtail the spread of influenza.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #1: (Chanting in non-English language).

KENYON: Protests were also staged in central Tehran, where parts of Iran's major marketplace, the Grand Bazaar, were shuttered in solidarity with the protests. In Washington, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a new raft of sanctions targeting police commanders and others involved in suppressing the popular demonstrations. In a statement, Blinken said, quote, "the United States is committed to supporting the Iranian people and ensuring that those responsible for the brutal crackdown on the ongoing nationwide protests in Iran are held accountable." The sanctions target a half dozen Iranians, including officials at Tehran's notorious Evin Prison and provincial officials who oversaw the violent crackdown by security forces.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING))

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #2: (Chanting in non-English language).

KENYON: Iranian leaders have tried to downplay the protests, but ordinary Iranians continue to turn out in large numbers in what's seen as the biggest challenge to the government since 2009's Green Movement.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.