WikiLeaks is to temporarily suspend its publishing operations and instead focus on raising funds to fight back what it described as an “unlawful” and “arbitrary” financial blockade imposed on it by the Bank of America, VISA, Mastercard, PayPal and Western Union as part of a “politically motivated” attack by American authorities.

Announcing the decision at a crowded press conference at the Frontline Club here on Monday, WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange said the financial blockade was an “existential” threat to the organisation and if it continued, WikiLeaks would not be able to carry on its work.

It had been able to survive on cash reserves for nearly a year but if it didn't find a way to remove the blockade it would not simply be able to continue by the turn of the year.

“In order to ensure our future survival, WikiLeaks is now forced to temporarily suspend its publishing operations and aggressively fundraise in order to fight back against this blockade and its proponents. We have commenced pre-litigation action against the blockade in Iceland, Denmark, the U.K., Brussels, the United States and Australia,” he said.

WikiLeaks had also lodged an anti-trust complaint at the European Commission and expected a decision by mid-November as to whether the European Competition Authority would open a full investigation into the “wrongdoing of VISA and Mastercard.”

Mr. Assange said the blockade, which had cost WikiLeaks “tens of millions of dollars” in lost donations, violated the rights of donors to economically engage with an organisation that was campaigning for free speech. According to a global survey, 75 per cent of the people around the world, including America, supported WikiLeaks' work and wanted to be associated with it.

“Yet a handful of U.S. companies have been able to block their support. These companies can't be allowed to arbitrarily decide how the world votes with its wallet,” he said.

Their “unprecedented” action under pressure from “senior right-wing politicians” was also in violation of the national sovereignty of other countries. In Europe, VISA and Mastercard together controlled 97 per cent of the money-processing market and were abusing their monopoly position.

“The blockade came into force within ten days of the launch of Cablegate as part of a concerted U.S.-based political attack that included vitriol by senior right-wing politicians, including assassination calls against WikiLeaks staff and myself personally,” Mr. Assange said.

The blockade was outside of any accountable public process and without democratic oversight or transparency, he added pointing out that the American Government itself found that there were “no lawful grounds” for it. No charges against WikiLeaks had been brought anywhere in the world and, yet, the blockade by “politicised” American finance companies continued.

Dangerous if unchallenged

Warning that it had long-term implications for other free speech campaigning organisations, Mr Assange said: “If this financial attack stands unchallenged, a dangerous, oppressive and undemocratic precedent will have been set, the implications of which go far beyond WikiLeaks and its work. Any organisation that falls foul of powerful finance companies or their political allies can expect similar extra-judicial action. Greenpeace, Amnesty International and other international NGOs that work to expose the wrongdoing of powerful players risk the same fate as WikiLeaks. If publishing the truth about war is enough to warrant such aggressive action by Washington insiders, all newspapers that have published WikiLeaks' materials are on the verge of having their readers and advertisers blocked from paying their subscriptions.”

Mr. Assange announced the launch of an alternative system of transferring funds to WikiLeaks to beat the blockade. Its details are available on its website www.wikileaks.org/support.

“Our battles will be costly. We need your support,” he said launching the “WikiLeaks Needs You” campaign. WikiLeaks would need $3.5 million next year in order to survive.

Mr. Assange said WikiLeaks was working on a more secure submissions system as its previous system had been infiltrated by intelligence agencies as part of the wider attack on its structures. Details would be announced next month.