The Icelandic partner of Visa and MasterCard violated contract laws when it imposed a block against credit card donations to the secret-spilling site WikiLeaks, a district court there has ruled.
The Reykjavík District Court ruled that Valitor, which handles Visa and MasterCard payments in Iceland, was in the wrong when it prevented card holders from donating funds to the site. The court ruled that the block should be removed within 14 days or Valitor will be fined the equivalent of about $6,000 a day.
WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson told the Associated Press that it was “a small but very important step in fighting back against these powerful banks.” He said other lawsuits are ongoing in Denmark and Belgium.
Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, Bank of America and other U.S. financial institutions began to block donations to WikiLeaks in 2010 after the controversial site began publishing more than 250,000 U.S. State Department cables that the group allegedly received from former Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning. The financial services cited violations of their “terms of service” agreements as the reason for blocking the donations.
The U.S. State Department called the publication of the 250,000 diplomatic cables “illegal,” but no charges have been filed against the site. Publishing government documents, even classified ones, is not explicitly illegal in the United States, though it is in the United Kingdom.
WikiLeaks and its credit card processor, DataCell, sued Valitor in Iceland over the shutdown.
WikiLeaks and DataCell also filed a complaint with the European Commission. The Commission is expected to make a decision about what to do before the end of August, according to a statement from WikiLeaks.
“This is a significant victory against Washington’s attempt to silence WikiLeaks,” WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in a statement about the win in Iceland. “We will not be silenced. Economic censorship is censorship. It is wrong. When it’s done outside of the rule of law it’s doubly wrong. One by one those involved in the attempted censorship of WikiLeaks will find themselves on the wrong side of history.”
The Associated Press reports that Valitor can appeal the decision, but even if it chooses to comply with the judgment, it’s not clear that Visa or MasterCard will still allow customers to make donations to DataCell or WikiLeaks.
WikiLeaks received $1.9 million in donations in 2010 but last year announced it was halting publication of documents due to claims that it was running short on funds. The site resumed publication of documents this month when it began publishing more than 2 million e-mails stolen from Syrian officials, government ministries and companies. Members of an Anonymous group have claimed responsibility for stealing the e-mails and giving them to WikiLeaks.