A European Union delegation has found persisting "shortcomings" in the human rights situation in Tajikistan, although it has noted "good progress" in some areas, the EU said in an October 13 statement.
The statement was immediately criticized by Human Rights Watch as "very weak."
The EU delegation, led by the head of its Central Asia division, Toivo Klaar, met with Abdujabbor Sattorzoda, chief of President Emomali Rahmon's human rights department, in Tajikistan's capital, Dushanbe, the statement said.
It concluded that the activity of civil society groups in the Central Asian country has become more restricted and urged the Tajik government to better involve NGOs in the legislative process.
The meeting agreed that Tajikistan has made "good progress" regarding women’s rights and the prevention of domestic violence, and that "significant efforts have been made by the Tajik government to prevent torture and ill treatment," the statement said.
The EU delegation also urged the Tajik government to take concrete measures to lift restrictions on the media and independent journalists as well as on freedom of belief, the statement said.
The EU delegation noted that "shortcomings" still remain, and raised specific torture instances including in the military, pretrial detention, and semiclosed and closed state institutions.
"The Tajik government must review the case of imprisoned defense lawyer Mr. Buzurgmehr Yorov.... The European Union expects the Tajik authorities to ensure that no pressure is exerted on family members of the political opposition, including those living abroad," said the statement.
Yorov was a lawyer for 13 jailed members and leaders of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, which President Rahmon's government labeled a terrorist organization and outlawed in 2015.
In October last year, Yorov was sentenced to 23 years in prison after a court convicted him of calling for the government's overthrow and inciting social unrest.
In mid-March, Tajikistan's Supreme Court found Yorov guilty of contempt of court and insulting a government official and extended his prison term by two years.
Yorov is among at least five human rights attorneys whom rights groups say have been targeted by authorities in Tajikistan in connection with their work.
The EU statement was more mildly worded than other criticism of Tajikistan's treatment of human rights lawyers.
In May, Amnesty International issued a scathing report, which accused Tajik authorities of having launched an “unrelenting assault” against lawyers, particularly those who took up the defense of government critics.
Human Rights Watch Central Asia researcher Steve Swerdlow on October 13 criticized the EU statement, tweeting, "Very weak statement by @eu_eeas on its dialogue held yesterday on #Tajikistan's #humanrights record (thoughts contd)"