LONDON (AP) — WikiLeaks is opening a new front in its battle to break the financial blockade imposed by credit card giants Visa and MasterCard, the group said Wednesday, saying it could now accept donations through a French non-profit.
Visa and MasterCard were among half a dozen U.S. payment firms to pull the plug on WikiLeaks, shortly after the group made its controversial decision to begin publishing some 250,000 secret State Department cables in December 2010.
It's not clear whether Visa or MasterCard would tolerate the move, which would route money through France's Fund for the Defense of Net Neutrality. In 2011 WikiLeaks briefly opened a funding gateway - through Icelandic payment processor DataCell - only to see it shut down by Visa on short notice.
In his statement, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange - who remains holed up at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he is seeking asylum - dared Visa to try to foil his latest fundraising plan."Let them shut it down," he said. "We're waiting. Our lawyers are waiting."
Assange is currently fighting extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning about allegations of sexual misconduct, and he has long complained of funding difficulties.
Those became particularly acute once Visa, MasterCard, and others took action against his site. U.S. and foreign officials had warned that their publication of secret cables would have calamitous consequences for American diplomats and their informants, with some accusing WikiLeaks of being a terrorist organization.
But as many of the worst predictions failed to materialize, the ongoing blockade began raising concerns about corporate censorship, with U.N. officials and media watchdog groups such as Reporters Without Borders describing it as a potential attack on free expression.
WikiLeaks is in the process of taking Visa, MasterCard, and their local European partners to court over the blockade - recently winning a case in Iceland against payment processor Valitor.WikiLeaks' latest move would see it take advantage of France's debit card system, known as Carte Bleue, to send donations via the Net Neutrality fund.
The precise mechanics of the proposed transactions remains unclear. The Fund for the Defense of Net Neutrality and Visa did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
Sarah DiLorenzo in Paris contributed to this report.
Raphael Satter can be reached at: http://raphae.li/twitter