Julian Assange has declared that WikiLeaks, the whistleblowing site he founded, must suspend its publishing operations to raise funds to prevent bankruptcy by the end of the year.

The site has been fighting what it calls a “financial blockade” after payment firms and banks including Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and Bank of America stopped processing donations to WikiLeaks in December last year.

Mr Assange said that this now posed an “existential threat” to WikiLeaks’ work, arguing that it had deprived the organisation of tens of millions of euros in funding.

“In order to ensure our future survival, WikiLeaks is now forced to temporarily suspend all publishing operations in order to direct all our resources into fighting the blockade and raising funds,” Mr Assange told a press conference at the Frontline Club, a private members’ club for journalists in central London.

“If WikiLeaks does not find a way to remove this blockade, given our current levels of expenditure, we will simply not be able to continue by the turn of the year.”

WikiLeaks needs $3.5m (€2.5m) to continue operating for the next 12 months, Mr Assange said, with dozens more leaks yet to be published.

Donations to WikiLeaks spiked when it first published its revelations, including the files from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and a cache of 250,000 US diplomatic cables.

In 2010, the average donation to WikiLeaks each month exceeded €100,000. But in the first nine months of 2011, average donations have mostly been between €6,000 and €7,000. WikiLeaks blames the shortfall on the blockade, although the period has also seen Mr Assange fighting claims of sexual assault in Sweden.

Mr Assange, who has always denied the allegations and is awaiting a British court’s ruling on Swedish authorities’ attempts to extradite him to Stockholm for further questioning, said that WikiLeaks donations were never used to fund his legal battle.

Over the summer, WikiLeaks and Datacell, the Icelandic payment processing firm it used, filed a complaint to the European Commission over financial companies’ actions.

WikiLeaks had hoped that the situation would have rectified itself by now. It intends to turn to other sources of funding.

“We hope to put together a constellation of wealthy individuals from different nations so we are able to keep our political independence, together with a broad mass appeal using alternative [funding] mechanisms,” Mr Assange said.

The financial services’ firms actions against WikiLeaks raise issues of freedom of speech and could threaten the work of charities such as Greenpeace and Amnesty International, he added. “These few companies cannot be permitted to arbitrarily decide how the whole world votes with its wallet.”

Mr Assange also told reporters on Monday that WikiLeaks would provide a new secure method to leak documents next month, declaring that it was “not possible to trust” existing online submission systems.

He pointed to the recent case of DigiNotar, a Dutch company selling certificates to authenticate sensitive websites such as banking or email, which was infiltrated by Iranian intelligence agencies, as an example of the lack of security inherent in today’s internet.

“A number of certificate authorities are in effective state control, they are run directly by branches of the state,” he said. “It is not possible to trust any regular web-based encryption system.”

WikiLeaks has had to re-engineer its own submission system “from scratch” because it “could not be trusted”, Mr Assange said. For the last 12 months, all WikiLeaks submissions have been made in person rather than through its website.

“On November 28, we will launch our new-generation submission system,” he said. “That includes not just a public interface but also several other mechanisms that are necessary to deal with an attack on the entire internet security system that has been established over the past few years by intelligence agencies and criminal groups.”

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