BRUSSELS -- The European Parliament has called on the European Union's leadership to keep a close watch on Uzbekistan's progress on political reforms and adherence to human rights and media freedoms.
The recommendations on Uzbekistan, where President Shavkat Mirziyoev has promised reform after coming to power following the death of long-ruling autocrat Islam Karimov in 2016, came in a report approved by the European Parliament on March 26.
It urged the EU's executive council and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to "provide for regular, in-depth dialogue and monitor full implementation of political and democratic reforms aimed at creating an independent judiciary" in Uzbekistan.
It also calls on the Central Asian country to create "a genuinely independent parliament resulting from a genuinely competitive election" and to take steps aimed at "protecting human rights, gender equality and freedom of the media."
The report comes after the EU earlier this year held the first round of negotiations on a Comprehensive Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (EPCA) with Uzbekistan.
The deal, which will replace an existing political framework between Brussels and Tashkent from 1999, covers issues such as trade in goods, legislative cooperation, and issues related to democracy and human rights.
A similar deal between the EU and Kazakhstan took four years to negotiate, and the European Parliament needs to give consent to the EPCA with Uzbekistan.
The parliament report welcomed the release of political prisoners but urges the authorities "to guarantee them full rehabilitation and access to remedy and medical treatment."
It also calls for the "release of all remaining political prisoners and all other individuals imprisoned or persecuted on politically motivated charges."
The text also welcomed "progress made towards the eradication of child labor" but said that "state-sponsored forced labor in the cotton and silk industries and other areas remains a problem."
In an annual report released in February, the Washington-based rights group Freedom House classified Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as "not free," placing them among countries with the worst situations for political rights and civil liberties.
But it cautiously welcomed "another year of tentative improvement" in Uzbekistan, which previously has been on the group's "worst-of-the-worst" list.
Freedom House said the government "continued to release political prisoners and ease restrictions" on nongovernmental organizations in 2018.