Visa and MasterCard were among half a dozen major U.S. financial firms to pull the plug on WikiLeaks following its decision to begin publishing about 250,000 State Department cables in late 2010. WikiLeaks says that the ensuing blockade has led to a 95 percent fall in revenue, something which founder Julian Assange says has forced him to focus on fundraising at the expense of his site's publication work.
The judgment, handed down by Reykjavik District Court, is "a very important milestone in our campaign," WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson said in a telephone interview. Lawsuits remain active in Denmark and in Belgium, he said, but the Icelandic win was "a small but very important step in fighting back against these powerful banks."
The implications of the judgment weren't immediately clear.
The District Court ordered Visa and MasterCard's local partner, Valitor, to resume funneling donations to WikiLeaks' payment processor, DataCell, within two weeks or face 800,000 kronur (about $6,000) in daily fines, according to DataCell lawyer Sveinn Andri Sveinsson.
"If they don't appeal this verdict, then they're obliged to open the payment gateway," he said. "By opening the gateway, they're obliged to process the payments."
Valitor didn't immediately return messages seeking comment on the judgment or clarity on whether it would appeal.
Even if Valitor chooses to comply with the judgment, it isn't clear whether Visa or MasterCard would still allow their customers to make donations to DataCell or WikiLeaks.
Neither Visa Inc. nor MasterCard Inc. immediately returned emails seeking comment on the judgment.