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Court orders Visa partner to allow donations to WikiLeaks

Credit card blockade begins to crack

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WikiLeaks may soon be able to accept donations again, now that the Icelandic Supreme Court has ruled that the blockade on donations imposed by local Visa partner Valitor is illegal and has ordered the company to pay huge fines if it doesn't change its ways.

In its ruling, the court upheld an earlier court decision that cutting off WikiLeaks from donations was illegal and ordered Valitor (formerly known as Visa Iceland) to allow payments to the controversial organization. If it doesn't comply within 15 days, the company is ordered to pay a fine of 800,000 ISK ($6,829) per day.

"It's an extremely happy day," WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson told The Register. "We're now working on the preparation of litigation of international companies, taking it step by step via their subcontractors, focusing on those bowing under political pressure and ordering the payment closure worldwide."

He explained that in a similar legal case, Denmark Visa's payment processor had admitted that the ban had been instituted under pressure, although there has been no similar admission from Valitor in this case.

Shortly after WikiLeaks released US diplomatic cables in November 2010, the site was hit by a blockade on donations from Visa, MasterCard, and PayPal.

In the latter case, PayPal said that the ban was instituted because the US State Department claimed WikiLeaks was engaging in illegal activities. But in 2011, US Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner said that there were no grounds to block donations to WikiLeaks.

The blacklisting left the organization starved of funds, but it instituted legal action over the ban, pointing out that the three payment systems continued to provide services for such organizations as the Ku Klux Klan. Visa and MasterCard were also briefly hit with hacking attacks after the ban was revealed.

Wednesday's ruling could just be the start of more financially flush times for WikiLeaks, Hrafnsson explained, since the ruling could be augmented by a separate case by the whistle-blowing website's Icelandic payment processor and hosting firm, DataCell. DataCell had been driven nearly to bankruptcy by the blockade, he said, and the courts could also award it a serious chunk of cash in damages for lost business.

The ruling could also have an effect on WikiLeaks' ongoing complaint to the EU that the ban constitutes uncompetitive behavior. Hrafnsson said that the translated Supreme Court ruling will be sent to the EU as part of that case.

"This is a victory for free speech. This is a victory against the rise of economic censorship to crack down against journalists and publishers," said WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange in a statement.

"We thank the Icelandic people for showing that they will not be bullied by powerful Washington backed financial services companies like Visa. And we send out a warning to the other companies involved in this blockade: you're next." ®

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