You can’t bank on free speech

An extrajudicial banking blockade imposed on WikiLeaks has caused a 95 per cent loss in revenue for the organisation.

visa credit cards
Companies including VISA and MasterCard have imposed “an historic act of censorship” on WikiLeaks [GALLO/GETTY]

The banks, payment and credit card companies support extremist organisations by authorising transfers and donations to them. You can use VISA and MasterCard to donate to the Ku Klux Klan and the English Defence League. You can donate to Aryan Nations, a white supremacist organisation, despite being designated a “terrorist threat” by the FBI.

VISA and MasterCard do not mind if you decide to use your cards to buy pornography on the internet or a rifle identical to the one used by the right-wing extremist Andreas Breivik to murder 69 people in Norway. To justify such associations the banks erect a facade of political neutrality. But there is one conspicuous exception where the finance companies show their true face.

The extrajudicial banking blockade imposed upon WikiLeaks by VISA, MasterCard, Bank of America, Western Union and PayPal is unique and has been in place for almost a year.

This is an attempt against the very survival of the organisation as WikiLeaks depends entirely upon donations for its operations. Already this blockade has stripped away 95 per cent of its revenues. This is an historic act of censorship. Never before has an organisation dedicated to the fght for justice and basic rights; transparency, freedom of information, freedom of the internet and freedom of expression been hit with such a vicious attack.

There is more at stake here than simply the survival of WikiLeaks. When financial institutions decide to make it very difficult or almost impossible for you to make a donation they are infringing upon your basic human rights. They are stopping you from expressing your support for a cause.

“The banking blockade of WikiLeaks might be a first but it will not be the last if it goes unchallenged.

The banking blockade of WikiLeaks might be a first but it will not be the last if it goes unchallenged.

Will the banks decide to block donations to Amnesty International, Greenpeace or Reporters Without Borders? Will they decide to stop processing transaction to media organisations that sell content on the internet? Or even more serious; will the threat of such a blockade stop any organisation, relying on donations, from being critical of the financial powers?

With some notable exception, there has been an absence of mass critical reporting on this blockade in the mainstream media. VISA, MasterCard, Bank of America, Western Union and Paypal get away with declining to comment or by making vague references to illegality by WikiLeaks.


This is easily refuted as WikiLeaks has not been convicted or charged with any wrongdoing in any jurisdiction. Even the Danish sub-contractor of VISA in Europe found nearly a year ago that nothing in WikiLeaks operations contravened laws or VISA regulations.

Moreover, despite political pressure, Timothy Geithner, the US Secretary of the Treasury, found in January 2011 that there were no lawful grounds to blacklist WikiLeaks and its publishing is protected by the 1st Amendment.

And yet, the banking giants of this world continue to impose this unlawful and unethical blockade. Fighting the blockade is a matter of priority for WikiLeaks but the outcome goes far beyond the interest of the publishing organisation. The first legal step in the fight has already been taken by asking for the intervention of the competition department of the European Commission. It is primarily aimed at VISA and MasterCard, the American companies who together process 97 per cent of European card transactions. Further steps are being prepared.

I am no stranger to the devastating effect of the banks. My home country Iceland is still suffering from the aftermath of the total collapse of the banking sector in October 2008. Although the Icelandic bankers claim to have been victims of outside forces, secret documents revealed by WikiLeaks show a different story.

WikiLeaks has published hundreds of documents exposing corruption and illegality within the banks. Initially bank secrecy had the aim to protect the privacy of costumers. Now it has become a tool to hide the wrong doing of the banks themselves at the expense of their account holders and as we have seen recently, the population at large.

Corrupt bankers (or “banksters”, as they are called in Iceland) have an interest in silencing WikiLeaks as is evident in the unprecedented illegal steps taken by VISA, MasterCard, PayPal, WesternUnion and Bank of America.

We call upon everyone to assist us in this important fight. We have seen clearly what bankers’ greed can do to our economies. We cannot allow them to directly infringe on our basic human rights.

Kristinn Hrafnsson is the spokesman for WikiLeaks.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.