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WikiLeaks donations by Visa ruled OK in Iceland

The verdict marks 'a victory for free speech,' the whistle-blowing site says

The three-year blockade against donations to WikiLeaks may have just been chiseled away, in Iceland, by a ruling handed down by the European country's Supreme Court.

The verdict, handed down Wednesday, says that the Visa subcontractor Valitor had unlawfully terminated its contract with WikiLeaks' donation processor, DataCell, and must re-open the processing of donations to the whistle-blowing site within 15 days or else face a fine of ISK800,000, or US$6,830, per day. WikiLeaks sued Valitor last year after the company terminated the contract with DataCell. Valitor made the move without plausible explanation, WikiLeaks alleged.

Visa, in addition to MasterCard, American Express and others, stopped processing payments for WikiLeaks in 2010 when the site began to release about 250,000 secret U.S. diplomatic cables. As a result, 95 percent of WikiLeaks' revenue was wiped out.

The organization would need to raise nearly $1 million to continue publishing through 2013, it said in a tweet in December.

But Wednesday's ruling marks an "important milestone" in WikiLeaks' efforts to end the economic blockade, the organization said in a statement.

"This is a victory for free speech," WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange said.

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

Some other bits of commentary surrounding the ruling have been posted to WikiLeaks' Twitter account. At this point, WikiLeaks does not seem to be sure whether Visa will honor the ruling or simply pay the fine.

"Be interesting to see whether Visa will spend $204k a month in fines rather than lifting the blockade generally," the group tweeted Wednesday morning, but added, "Either way, we win."

Also, WikiLeaks does not expect the ruling to be appealed. "The Icelandic Supreme Court is the highest court in Iceland," the group tweeted. "There is no avenue of appeal for Valitor/Visa."

Moreover, WikiLeaks hopes Iceland's Supreme Court decision will pave the way for future successes in its battle with international credit card and financial services companies.

In 2011, DataCell filed a complaint with the European Commission charging that the overall blockade was a violation of European competition rules. The EU responded in 2012 that the case did not merit further investigation because it could not establish any actual infringement of European competition rules.

But with Iceland's ruling, "we hope that the European Commission also acknowledges that the economic blockade against WikiLeaks is an unlawful and arbitrary censorship mechanism that threatens freedom of the press across Europe," Assange said.

The verdict could also strengthen another WikiLeaks case in Denmark against a Danish Visa subcontractor similar to Valitor, the organization said.

Currently it is not possible to donate to WikiLeaks directly via credit card. In December, however, a new website was created by Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and some other civil rights activists to crowdsource donations for WikiLeaks and three other organizations.

Neither WikiLeaks nor Visa could be immediately reached to comment on Iceland's ruling.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is [email protected]


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