DUSHANBE -- The spiritual leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) has died at the age 59 after a long illness, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.
He was buried this morning in the capital, Dushanbe.
Muhammadsharif Himmatzoda was elected as the party's first leader in 1991 after it was officially registered.
When civil war broke out in 1992, Himmatzoda left Tajikistan and joined the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) in exile, of which he was subsequently named deputy head.
Himmatzoda returned to Tajikistan in 1997 after the signing of a UN-mediated peace agreement between the government of President Emomali Rahmon and the UTO.
In 2000, Himmatzoda was elected to the lower house of parliament as an IRPT member. He was reelected in 2005.
When Said Abdullo Nuri died of cancer in 2006, Himmatzoda stepped down as party head to succeed him as IRPT's spiritual leader. He protested strongly against a new state law on religion passed one year ago that has curtailed the activities of several non-Muslim religious groups and failed to officially register others.
A parliamentary commission revoked his benefits last year in retaliation for his opposition to the religion law, whereupon Himmatzoda resigned his parliament mandate.
Himmatzoda had been suffering from cancer for the past four years and rarely left his home.
The IRPT is the only officially registered religiously based political party in Central Asia.