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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers a speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on September 15.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says the bloc will maintain pressure on members Poland and Hungary to uphold democratic values, including possible legal actions and funding cuts.

She said during a speech in Brussels on September 15 that actions by Warsaw and Budapest that harshly restrict migration, discriminate against women and LGBT people, restrict the media, or constrain the independence of the judiciary are antithetical to the basic values of the 27-member bloc.

"These values are now enshrined in European treaties," von der Leyen said. "This is what we all signed up to when we became part of this union as free and sovereign countries. We are determined to defend these values."

The bloc has long been at odds with the nationalist and euroskeptic governments in Hungary and Poland.

The two countries are among nine member states whose national spending plans have not yet been approved by the European Commission, a step that is necessary to unlock billions of euros earmarked to help restart economic growth stalled by the coronavirus pandemic.

Von der Leyen also repeated support for a proposal to tie access to EU funds to respect for the rule of law.

"We will do whatever we can to protect the EU budget," she said, adding that the commission would be sending out warnings under the new mechanism to member states in the near future.

Speaking in Warsaw the same day, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the ruling Law and Justice party, said that Poland's future was inside the EU, but that it must remain a "sovereign country."

Based on reporting by Reuters and AP

The investigative journalism group Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) says it has halted its operations in Russia to shield its journalists from an ongoing government crackdown on independent media in the country.

The OCCRP said on September 15 that most of its Russian partners cooperating with it had been labeled as "foreign agents" or "undesirable" organizations, putting them at risk, given the current conditions.

It added that it had proposed its employees in Russia move to other countries, while those who stayed received severance payments and assistance in finding new jobs.

"We will not stop reporting on the kleptocracy but increasingly there is little gained from being there and great risks to the freedom of employees. We will work with journalists outside," OCCRP co-founder and editor Drew Sullivan tweeted.

"We thank the dedicated journalists who sought hard to tell the real truth and to counter the murderous misinformation machine that is the Russian government. They are true heroes. The people of that great country deserve more," another tweet said.

The OCCRP is a noncommercial organization that unites more than 50 independent media outlets across the world and publishes more than 100 investigative reports each year.

Critics have said Russia's law on "foreign agents," initially adopted in 2012 and amended several times since, is being used by the authorities against independent voices, especially in recent months with parliamentary elections approaching and the ruling, Kremlin-backed United Russia party slumping in opinion polls.

The law requires nongovernmental organizations that are deemed to be receiving foreign assistance and engaged in political activity to be registered and to identify themselves as "foreign agents," as well as to submit to audits.

Organizations designated as "foreign agents" also have to carry out tedious administrative procedures, including clearly indicating their status to the public.

In July, the Council of Europe's Venice Commission, which is composed of independent experts in the field of constitutional law, called on Russia to reject aspects of the "foreign agents" laws, saying they had a "significant chilling effect...on the free exercise of the civil and political rights which are vital for an effective democracy."

Russia has said the laws and new amendments are designed to increase transparency and enhance national security, but the Venice Commission said in its report that the results will be the exact opposite.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and several of its Russian-language news sites, including its flagship Russian-language television channel, Current Time, are on the "foreign agents" registry.

RFE/RL has not labeled its content, resulting in the Justice Ministry imposing tens of millions of dollars in fines. RFE/RL has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights and has also moved to shift some of its employees and operations out of Moscow to Kyiv and elsewhere.

RFE/RL President Jamie Fly has said that Russia is attempting to fine RFE/RL's Moscow bureau out of existence with the penalties.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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